U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy will be aiming to better his third place in 2009 when he tees off in the Korea Kolon Open at Woo Jeong Country Hills Club in Cheonan on Thursday.
To take the trophy, the Northern Irish star will not only have to defeat defending champion and local hero Y.E. Yang in his own backyard, he will have to fend off a strong challenge from other Korean, Australian and Chinese rivals at the OneAsia event.
KOLON KOREA OPEN
2009 PGA Championship winner Y.E. Yang won the 2010 Korea Open by overcoming a 10-shot deficit in the final round.
McIlroy arrived in Korea after finishing second in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland on Sunday.
“I am excited to be back for the first time since 2009. I went close last time and finished third, so it would be nice to come back and do better,” McIlroy said.
“I remember the course, but the thing I remember most is that the par 3s are tough, especially on the back nine,” he added. “All aspects of your game have to be in shape every week, but especially iron play this week considering the tough par 3s we will have to play.”
Yang, the only Asian player to win a major after defeating Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship in 2009, is always well-supported in his homeland and thrilled fans by taking the 2010 title.
“I have good memories of the course from last year. I enjoy this tournament and I know that Korean fans look forward to this week,” said Yang.
“Rory is a good player and I am looking forward to playing against him this week,” he added. “I lost to him at the U.S. Open so I would like to beat him, but he is the highest ranked player in the field this week.”
There are other local stars expected to mount a challenge.
Kim Kyung-tae of South Korea, ranked 22 in the world, is also among the favorites, as is Noh Seung-yol who let a five-shot lead slip in the 2010 tournament.
“I’m sure Y.E. Yang has great memories of last year, but I don’t and I hope he will feel my pain this time around,” said Noh. “I play the Korea Open every year and I am looking forward to playing alongside top quality players.”
2010 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Rickie Fowler is another of the high-profile contenders.
China has sent a 16-strong contingent to challenge the likes of Mcilroy and Yang for the title with Wu Ashun and Zhang Xinjun leading the charge
Like McIlroy, Australia’s Andre Stolz was in action in Scotland last weekend and is also ready to take a third professional title of the year after triumphing at the Thailand Open and Indonesia PGA Championship.
Such successes have moved Stolz to the top of the OneAsia Order of Merit ahead of Kim Kyung-tae. Although the Koreans have home advantage, Stolz is hoping that his local knowledge and experience will help.
“I’ve played this course before so I know where I’m going and what to expect,” he said. “The challenge will be my late arrival from the Dunhill Links and not having had a practice round before the tournament.”