McIlroy keen to focus on golf in Korea
BY OneAsia | OneAsia Tour | 2013 Kolon Korean Open | Preview | 15 Oct 2013
CHEONAN, Korea, October 15 – Two-time Major champion Rory McIlroy is looking forward to a return to competitive golf at the Kolon Korea Open this week after a month-long break that has only rekindled speculation about his form and private life.
The 24-year-old is the star attraction at the one billion won (around U.S.$ 1 million) OneAsia event and he will be seeking to improve on his second place in 2011 and joint third in 2009.
“The last couple of times I’ve enjoyed myself and came close both times to winning,” he said at Woo Jeong Hills Country Club, near Cheonan, south of Seoul.
“I remember the course pretty well, so I’m looking forward to getting back on it. I’m looking forward just to getting back playing. I’ve had four weeks off so it’s nice to get back into competitive golf again.”
McIlroy, one of the world’s highest earning sportsmen, has seen his form slump since switching equipment earlier this year and has also been dogged by a British media circus desperate for details of his relationship with Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
He gave a press conference in the capital earlier on Tuesday at which he refused to blame his equipment for his playing woes and also declined to answer questions about his private life.
“I’ve been working pretty hard, working with my coach Michael Bannon, working on a few technical things,” he told OneAsia later in the day. “It’ll be good to try and put those in play this week and see how that goes.”
As for the tabloid tittle-tattle, McIlroy said he would be glad to get away from it.
“I’m just happy to be back on the golf course and doing what I do best. It’s a nice place for a little bit of solace.”
The rough may be shorter and the fairways a touch wider, but Woo Jeong Hills still promises a stern test.
Just five players broke par in last year’s event, with Kim Dae-sub claiming his third national open title — but only the first as a professional — with a five-under total of 279.
A year earlier, American superstar Rickie Fowler stamped his class on the tournament and won his first title in the paid ranks when he finished 16 under, beating McIlroy by six strokes despite the Irishman’s blistering final-round 64.
“The course is in great condition — better than I can ever remember for the Open,” said David Parkin, OneAsia’s Director of Tour Operations.
“The rough is not as long as in the past, although the fairways are probably a little bit fluffier than the pros prefer. Hopefully we can give them a mow beforehand.”
Described by the 100 Top Courses of the World website as “close as you can find in Asia to a big, brutish U.S. tournament course”, the 6,591-metre (7,208-yard) layout meanders through the rolling Woo Jeong Hills, and the natural landscaping is augmented by several large art installations.
The Korean Golf Association likes to set a tough challenge for the country’s national championship, so expect some very tough pin positions. Approach play will be premium, especially as the weather is expected to deteriorate as the week progresses.
“It is never easy playing here, but I think the scoring might be a bit better this year,” said Parkin. “I expect to see the winner finish around six under maybe seven.”
The field is affected this week because many of the top Korean players that flit between OneAsia and the Japan Tour are staying in the Land of the Rising Sun for the Japan Open. With the Japan Tour’s season coming to a close, they are jockeying for position on the money list in order to retain their card for next year.
The event also clashes with the European Tour co-sanctioned Perth International, so many of the leading Australians are staying home to play that, followed by the two big OneAsia events Down Under — the Australian PGA Championship, presented by Coca-Cola (November 7 – 10) and the Emirates Australian Open (November 28 – December 1).
This gives OneAsia’s Q-School graduates a chance to shine again. Last week a record number of the Class of 2013 made the cut at the Nanshan China Masters — with three of them in the top 10 — including Australian Rhein Gibson, the world’s low-score record holder, who finished joint fourth.
Jamie Arnold and Michael Long are other Australasians who get a chance this week, Long missing an opportunity to play the Perth International in his hometown to compete in this event while Jamie Arnold returns from success at Stage One One of the Web.Com Tour School.
Gibson, whose 16-under-par 55 in Oklahoma last year is recognised by Guinness World Records as the lowest-ever ever by a professional, made nearly $40,000 in only his second OneAsia start, and is keen to continue the good work.
The Korea Open boasts a roll-call of former champions as impressive as any tournament in Asia, including Major winners Y.E. Yang, John Daly and Vijay Singh, as well as established stars such as Sergio Garcia and Thongchai Jaidee.
This year is as good a chance as any for a newcomer to put their name on the trophy and claim the first prize of around U.S.$280,000.