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Tiger getting back into Asian swing

By Chuah Choo Chiang | China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-12 08:54
Tiger Woods poses with the trophy after winning the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach, California. The American great in April confirmed he will play in the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan in October, in what is a major coup for the PGA Tour's increasingly prominent Asian swing. AP

All it took was one tweet to trigger talk of a "fun fall" when the PGA Tour's juggernaut heads to Asia with a promise of raising the decibel levels and extending the game's rising popularity in the Far East.

In 27 words, Tiger Woods informed his 6.5 million Twitter followers he will play in the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan, one of three mega PGA Tour tournaments teeing off in Asia in October.

The Asian swing, which offers nearly $30 million in combined prize money, also features The CJ Cup @Nine Bridges in South Korea and the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in China.

This will be the first Tiger sighting at a PGA Tour tournament in Asia since his appearance at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia in 2012, and the first time in 13 years that Woods will play in Japan.

"I'm excited to play in the inaugural Zozo Championship and to return to Japan, one of my favorite countries. It's going to be a fun fall," Woods said in an April tweet that resonated around the world.

Timing is everything in golf, and organizers of Japan's first official PGA Tour tournament couldn't be more pleased with Woods' early commitment, coming just 11 days after he produced a Masters victory for the ages at Augusta National.

It will also coincide nicely with Asia's continued rise on the PGA Tour following breakthrough victories by Chinese Taipei's CT Pan and South Korea's Sung Kang in recent months.

Following years of dealing with debilitating knee and back injuries, Woods' 81st PGA Tour victory, which put him one win shy of matching the record held by Sam Snead, has cemented Tiger's legacy in the sport.

With Woods committed to the Zozo Championship, the PGA Tour's newest showpiece in Asia will undoubtedly complement an already all-star lineup of mega events in the region.

The new generation of PGA Tour stars have fully embraced the vision of going global as they have made a beeline to Asia.

World No 2 Dustin Johnson has become a regular visitor to China after winning his first WGC-HSBC Champions title in 2013, and past winners of the prestigious event include Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter and Hideki Matsuyama.

"I've had a lot of success in China," said Johnson, who was also runner-up in 2017. "I've played well there and I always go back. It's a World Golf Championship, and I enjoy playing in it."

With the number of Koreans competing on the PGA Tour growing with each passing season, the CJ Cup @Nine Bridges is also creating a legacy, despite its infancy.

The tournament's hospitality is first-class, the Korean culture is intriguing and Jeju Island provides a stunning backdrop which the stars of the game enjoy, both on and off the course.

Brooks Koepka, triumphant in Jeju by four strokes last year after a final back nine of 29, said: "I enjoy Asia... it's one of my favorite spots to go on vacation. I always feel relaxed, and I like the culture. It's always a fun place to go and everyone is very respectful.

"I felt it was important to win in Jeju, especially after the year that I had. I had to back it up and the way I did was special. It was a good way to start the 2018-19 season."

With October's Asian events counting towards the 2019-20 PGA Tour season, accumulating early FedEx Cup points during the fall schedule is a key motivation for players.

Australia's well-traveled Adam Scott expects to see many other top guns joining Woods in the Far East.

"The Asian tournaments are great events," said Scott. "I have great fan support there, which is always fun. The tournaments have smaller fields and there are a lot of FedEx Cup points up for grabs.

'It's important this year as more players will have to play more events toward the back end of the year. It's going to be a good thing in regard to the strength of field for the tournaments in Asia."

The author is senior director of communications for the PGA Tour and is based in Kuala Lumpur.

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