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Golf: Slow-starting PGA makes full Asian debut

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The world's most successful golf tour will finally make its full debut in the potentially enormous Asian market this week when the CIMB Classic unleashes a coterie of stars in Malaysia.

America's PGA Tour has lagged behind the more adventurous European Tour with its forays into the vast region but this week's $7 million tournament in Kuala Lumpur will hope to make up for lost time.

Tiger Woods, the main drawcard, is absent but world number three Phil Mickelson will lead the charge in the first PGA event in Asia to offer points towards the new season's FedExCup.

Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler and K.J. Choi will also be prowling the undulating Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club on the Malaysian capital's outskirts from Thursday.

The tournament is one half of a bumper week of golf in Asia with the European Tour's $7 million BMW Masters in Shanghai also helping kick off the region's late-season international swing.

Next week, the sport's biggest names will contest the richest purse ever offered in Asia at the $8.5 million WGC-HSBC Championship, also in Shanghai.

The PGA Tour tested the waters in 2010 with the inaugural, 40-man CIMB tournament, the first event it sanctioned in Southeast Asia, before expanding it and finally giving it full points status.

With the winners of 15 majors and nearly 300 tournaments worldwide, this year's edition brings one of the strongest fields ever seen in Southeast Asia.

The bumper turnout stems from the fact that points for the FedExCup, the season-long championship culminating next September, are on offer, with 500 going to the winner.

Chief among the players' concerns will be jetlag -- with many flying in from last week's Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas -- as well as Malaysia's tropical heat and humidity.

Last year, Nick Watney's caddie Chad Reynolds was taken ill with heat stroke during the first round, prompting his wife Amber to duck inside the ropes and deputise by carrying her husband's bag.

Watney used a replacement caddie for the second round, but he made light of the problems by eventually carving out a one-shot win not far ahead of a charging Woods.

Bo Van Pelt, who won the CIMB in 2011 and was joint runner-up behind Watney last year, advised his fellow players to take it slow and steady around the hilly Kuala Lumpur course.

"I live in Oklahoma, it gets pretty hot in the summer there," said Van Pelt, sweating as he stood by the putting green.

"So I think it wasn't that big a stretch for me to deal with humidity and this amount of sunshine. You just drink lots of water, take your time and listen to your body.

"Everybody will get through it."

The big American added that Asia was now becoming a more established destination for PGA Tour golfers, despite the monster journey across the globe.

"With the strength of the field this week, obviously a lot of guys came over," he said.

"I think guys have heard that this is a great event the last couple of years and that's why you see the strength of the field. You look at the facilities this week, you can see why we're here."

India's Gaganjeet Bhullar, joint 10th last year, said the CIMB was a huge opportunity, with the winner earning a place at the US Masters and full PGA Tour membership.

Points and money earned this week can also help players gain entry to events on the lucrative American tour, considered the sport's pinnacle.

"It just means that we know we have achieved everything in life," said Bhullar. "If I play well this week and next week in the HSBC it will give me some status on the PGA Tour.

"I guess that's how the doors open, and at the end of the day, that's my goal. That's my destination."

th/jw

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131023/golf-slow-starting-pga-makes-full-asian-debut