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Li teeing up shot at history

China Daily | Updated: 2017-04-26 11:48

Champ aims to become first double winner of China Open

Li teeing up shot at history

Defending Volvo China Open champion Li Haotong (front) poses with rivals Thorbjorn Olesen, Wu Ashun, Chris Wood, Zhang Lianwei and Thomas Bjorn at the Great Wall on Tuesday, ahead of Thursday's opening round of the 20 million yuan ($3 million) tournament at Beijing's Topwin Golf and Country Club. [Photo/Agencies]

Li Haotong will have history on his mind when the Volvo China Open tees off at Beijing's Topwin Golf and Country Club on Thursday.

China's defending champion is aiming to become the first two-time winner of the 23-year-old event when he returns to the scene of his greatest triumph, where last year he won his first European Tour title.

Although Li has yet to add to that success, he has enjoyed a positive start to the 2017 season, tying for fifth place alongside former Masters champion Danny Willett at the recent Maybank Challenge in Malaysia.

But the 21-year-old Li faces a stiff challenge to retain his crown from a tough 156-man field that includes seven other former winners-including 2015 champ and compatriot Wu Ashun-and 13 of the world's top 100 players.

"As a young golf pro I was so glad to win the Volvo China Open," Li said. "The victory meant a lot because it was a huge personal breakthrough for me.

"This year is Volvo's 90th anniversary and the 30th anniversary of Volvo's association with golf, so I'm honored to be a part of this history.

"Volvo's junior match-play event, the qualifiers and of course the Volvo China Open have all been part of my development as a professional.

"I have to thank Volvo for their 23 years of support of golf in China, and I look forward to their continued support. I hope more young golfers will play in Volvo's junior events and be inspired to play in the Volvo China Open."

Among the notable European names going for the 3.33 million yuan ($484,000) first prize will be England's Ross Fisher, currently fifth in the European Tour's Race to Dubai money standings.

In building on his third-place finish in last week's Shenzhen International, Fisher expects stiff competition from Sweden's Robert Karlsson, who topped the European money list in 2008, and Austria's Bernd Wiesberger, who won in Shenzhen and sits sixth in the Race to Dubai standings.

Also entertaining the crowds on the spectacular Ian Woosnam-designed course, situated in the hills of Huairou alongside the Great Wall, will be Danish duo Thomas Bjorn, Europe's 2018 Ryder Cup captain, and Thorbjorn Olesen, a four-time winner on the European Tour.

The 20 million yuan ($3 million) tournament has had four Chinese winners in the past.

"The Volvo China Open has enjoyed some wonderful performances over the years and having back-to-back Chinese winners in Wu Ashun (2015) and Li Haotong (2016) was a real milestone for the tournament," said Sven De Smet, chairman of the Volvo China Open board and vice-president of brand and marketing for Volvo Car Asia Pacific.

"As the longest running sponsor of men's professional golf, we at Volvo are delighted to have played a role in the growth of the sport, not only in Europe but also in Asia Pacific.

"This week, the Volvo China Open will become the 136th tournament-and the 86th on The European Tour-to be sponsored by Volvo and we look forward to welcoming 156 players from 26 countries for what is truly a world-class international event."

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