Top golfer to play in S. Korea

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Top golfer to play in S. Korea

World No. 1 golfer Lee Westwood, three-time major champion Ernie Els and Korean major winner Yang Yong-eun will headline the field at the only European Tour event held in Korea later this year.

Organizers of the Ballantine’s Championship announced Monday that Westwood, Els, Yang and world No. 10 Ian Poulter have committed to the April 28-May 1 tournament with 2.2 million euros ($2.9 million) in total purse. This is the event’s fourth year. After three years on Jeju Island in southern part of the country, this year’s championship will move to Blackstone Golf Club in Icheon, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southeast of Seoul. Blackstone will be the host until 2013.

Westwood dethroned Tiger Woods from the No. 1 spot in the world golf rankings last year. The three-time European Tour player of the year also played at Ballantine’s in 2009. He has represented Europe in each of the past seven Ryder Cups.

If he retains his top spot, Westwood will be the first No. 1 player of the world to play in Korea. Woods visited the country in 2004 but only played in a charity skins game.

Yang, affectionately known as Y.E. Yang outside his native soil, will make his third Ballantine’s appearance. At the 2009 PGA Championship, Yang stunned Woods to become the first major champion from Asia.

Even though the tournament has left his hometown of Jeju Island, Yang said he will still look forward to playing in Korea.

“It’s always nerve-racking to play before home fans. Korean fans are passionate and knowledgeable of golf,” Yang said through the tournament organizers. “I know fans are especially proud of seeing their native sons play against world-class golfers. I am really eager to play at this tournament.”

Els will seek his third straight top-10 finish at the Ballantine’s this year. He won the 1994 and the 1997 U.S. Opens and the 2002 Open Championship. The South African is currently ranked 11th in the world.

The Englishman Poulter is coming off the best season of his career. He became the first from his country to win a World Golf Championship (WGC) tournament in 2010, taking the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and added a European Tour victory. He moved into the top 10 on the world rankings for the first time last year.

Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open winner, was the inaugural Ballantine’s champ in 2008, followed by Thongchai Jaidee in 2009 and Marcus Fraser last year.

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