High-flying Garcia on a mission to win US$1.5 million Ho Tram Open

Sergio Garcia High Flying Ho Tram Open 2Ho Tram, Vietnam: World number 12 Sergio Garcia is on a mission to win the inaugural US$1.5 million Ho Tram Open which tees off at The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip course on Thursday.

The Spanish superstar, who is the highest ranked golfer in the richest full field Asian Tour tournament, made a grand entrance at the award-winning Greg Norman-designed venue yesterday, stepping out elegantly from a helicopter ride in a full tuxedo ala James Bond style.

Apart from having the licence to thrill golf fans at Vietnam’s biggest sporting event, the 35-year-old Garcia, who holds 22 Tour victories including four in Asia, will be seeking to end his year with a first title of the year.

He will face a strong line-up of stars led by Major champions Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, Y.E. Yang of Korea and Australian Geoff Ogilvy while Jeev Milkha Singh of India will be amongst the 40 Tour winners including Scott Hend of Australia, Thailand’s Prom Meesawat and Malaysia’s Danny Chia fighting for the Ho Tram Open title.

Garcia is determined to finish the year on a high note to set himself up for a big season ahead in 2016 which includes the Ryder Cup and Olympic Games. He also lavished praise on The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip, which was recently named the World’s Best New Course at the World Golf Awards in Portugal recently.

“The hotel looks really nice. I took a view of the course from a helicopter ride in (from Ho Chi Minh city) and it looks really nice. I wasn’t expecting it to be so hilly because everything else looks flat here. It is going to be nice to have a good look today (in the pro-am), get some notes and be ready for tomorrow. I’m looking forward to getting over my jetlag and getting more sleep. I want to be as fresh as possible for the whole week,” said the Spaniard.

Four top-10s and two tied 11th finishes in Asia last month have been amongst Garcia’s season highlights but he knows wrapping up 2015 with a title will be a good boost for the year ahead. “Next year is a massive year. It is the Ryder Cup, which is very important to all of us including me. We have the Olympics and four Majors. There are a lot of great things happening. It has the potential to be an amazing year,” said Garcia.

“We represent our countries everywhere we go but we never had to possibility to do it at the Olympic Games. I’m really excited at the possibility of being an Olympian and meeting some of the other athletics. It is a great opportunity and a massive year,” he added.

Former British Open champion Clarke, who is also captain for Europe in the Ryder Cup and EurAsia Cup, believes experience will the deciding factor this week. “You have to look at the more experienced guys here as it’s not just about hitting it 400yards down the fairway so someone like Sergio controls it as well as he does, he will be a tough man to beat. Control is very important this week,” said the 47-year-old.

After taking a much needed week’s break, big-hitting Hend, who is second on the Asian Tour Order of Merit, is ready to contend at the Ho Tram Open as he seeks a second win of the season. “Prize money is irrelevant, I just want to have another title. I’ve had a pretty good year. I’m here to try to win and secure second place on the money list,” said Hend.

Malaysian Chia is also keen on a strong showing in Vietnam to help secure his place in the EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM next month. He currently sits in the fourth and final slot available through the Order of Merit and needs to maintain his position until December 14.

“The EurAsia Cup is definitely on my mind. It will be good if I can finish as the fourth highest Asian player. My game is feeling good although I need to make a lot of adjustments in my swing to overcome the wind,” said Chia, the only Malaysian to win multiple times on the Asian Tour.

Englishman Robert Rock, who is The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip ambassador, believes the launch of the Ho Tram Open will help grow the game in Vietnam. “We are working with juniors to try and start a bit more interest in golf. The important part is having a golf tournament so the world can see that Vietnam can stage an amazing tournament.

“You need these big tournaments with big players so the interest is there for the kids. I grew up watching players like Seve (Ballesteros), Nick Faldo and Greg Norman. We have great players here and they are doing that job now for us,” said the two-time European Tour winner.

Since opening in October 2014, the links-style layout located two hours southeast of Ho Chi Minh City has been hailed by many of the world’s leading authorities on golf. In January, GOLF Magazine named it one of the world’s best new courses. In July, the Australian Financial Review called it “as pretty a course as you’ll find on the entire Asian continent. Last month it was named the World’s Best New Course at the World Golf Awards ceremony in Portugal.