Koreans share same angle of approach to Ballantine’s: Win

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Koreans share same angle of approach to Ballantine’s: Win

A pack of the nation’s leading golfers will seek to become the first Korean to win the Ballantine’s Championship, which kicks off the Korean Professional Golf Association’s season tomorrow on the outskirts of Seoul.

The five-year-old event, co-sanctioned by the European Tour, will be held at the Black Stone Golf Club in Icheon, Gyeonggi, through Sunday.

Among Koreans, Kang Sung-hoon came closest to winning the event in 2009, when he finished runner-up to Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand in a playoff. Park Sang-hyun finished third in 2011, when Hong Soon-sang finished fifth. Noh Seung-yeol came in fourth in 2010.

A field of 156 players, including 42 Koreans, will vie for the sixth edition title. About 2.2 million euros ($2.9 million) is at stake, the biggest prize among 15 KPGA events scheduled for this year.

Yang Yong-eun, or Y.E. Yang, will lead Koreans playing overseas. Yang, the first Asian winner of a major event of the PGA, failed to make the cut at the Masters in Georgia two weeks ago. He did not play in the RBC Heritage held in South Carolina through Sunday and flew to Korea to compete in the Ballantine’s Championship.

Kim Kyung-tae, the 2006 Asian Games winner, and three-time Asian Tour winner Bae Sang-moon have also come back to play at Black Stone.

The top three KPGA golfers are seeking a strong start with a win at the season-opener. Lee Sang-hee, the 2012 KPGA Grand Prix winner, is playing in Japan after winning the Q-School of the Japan Golf Tour last year. Kang Kyung-nam, a five-time winner on the KPGA, recorded the most top-10 finishes last year. Kim Dae-sub, who won two of the seven late-season events last year that he played after completing his military service, is hoping to continue his momentum.

Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, ranked No. 7 in the world, will lead a European Tour pack, along with Paul Lawrie of Scotland, the 1999 British Open winner who has won the European Tour eight times. Paul Casey of England, who won the 2011 Shinhan-Donghae Open on the Korean Tour, will play, along with Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, vice captain of the 2012 European Ryder Cup team. Paul McGinley of Ireland, who will captain the 2014 European Ryder Cup team, also will compete in Icheon.

Meanwhile, two American golfers invited to the event, Dustin Johnson and Zach Johnson, decided not to play, citing inter-Korean tension on the peninsula, the organizers of the event said yesterday. Spanish golfer Alvaro Quiros withdrew earlier from the event for the same reason.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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