Superstar Sergio Garcia will come full circle when he tees off in the SMBC Singapore Open on Thursday after a monumental 2017 during which he won his first Major at the Masters.
The Spaniard began his 2017 campaign at Sentosa Golf Club last January, finishing joint 11th, and is looking at this year’s tournament as a launch pad for another successful season.
He started with a bang on Wednesday by winning the Pro-Am – “I already have a victory this year,” he exclaimed – and is hoping for a big week.
“It does not feel it is a year and we are back here again,” said Garcia, who won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic two weeks after playing in Singapore before picking up his first Major title by beating England’s Justin Rose in a playoff at the Masters.
“To me last year I played decent here. I had a solid week and then went on to Dubai and managed to win there and that was obviously a nice starting point.
“It would be nice to play well. I think if we can manage to win here it will be amazing. Even if we do not, we can still take a lot of positives out of it.
“That first week of the year is always interesting, you are kind of testing yourself a little bit as you have not played tournaments for a couple of months and everything is a little bit fresher. Hopefully we can get going nicely and have a good week and kind of build on from that.”
World number 10 Garcia is the highest ranked player in the elite field with American Pat Perez sitting six spots below him.
The 41 year old Perez is enjoying a career revival after shoulder surgery and is currently second on the FedExCup standings on the PGA Tour after a great start to the season which included victory in the first stop of the Asian swing in Kuala Lumpur.
“I have been playing well for about 15 months now. (I have) a lot of confidence in what I am doing and (am) very excited to be playing so well,” said Perez, who is a three-time winner on the PGA Tour.
“I am very excited to be here, I think the course is fantastic – it is going to be a great week.”
Garcia’s fellow Major winner, South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, is a Serapong Course specialist having lost in a playoff to Matteo Manassero at the 2012 Singapore Open and finishing joint third a year earlier.
“I’m glad to be back, it’s a golf course I really enjoy, and hopefully I’ll have a good week,” said Oosthuizen, winner of the 2010 Open Championship. “If you’re driving the golf ball well then you can really take the golf course on. I’ve always been a fairly good driver of the golf ball.”
Asian Tour number one Gavin Green of Malaysia and his Japan Golf Tour Organisation equivalent, Yusaku Miyazato, are also in the strong line up along with defending champion Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand, 2016 winner Younghan Song, and Yuta Ikeda and Ryo Ishikawa, both multiple winners in Japan.
Green and Ishikawa will play alongside Garcia in one of the marquee groups of the morning session, teeing off the 10th at 8.00am.
Ishikawa, one of the most popular and successful players to come out of Japan, is fully recovered from a back injury that sidelined him for six months in 2016 and feels his game is in good shape.
“My game is getting better. In my last event (Casio World Open) in Japan last November, I tied for second, a stroke behind. That gives me a good feeling coming into this week,” said Ishikawa, who won the first of his 14 JGTO titles when he was a 15-year-old amateur.
“The golf course is tough but it is in great shape – the greens are so fast. The rough is thick so you have got to keep it on the fairway but that is sometimes tough because there is also a lot of water and bunkers and there is a strong wind.”
Garcia said he was pleased to be paired with Ishikawa, who he knows from the Japan star’s time on the PGA Tour, and Green.
“I am excited about it (the grouping), I have known Ryo for quite a while but I have not played with him for a long time too,” he said.
“I am excited to see if we can have a good solid first few days, see where we go from there. I think Asian golf is getting stronger and stronger every year that goes by, not only Japanese players. Korean players, Chinese players and Thai players. Asian players coming out left and right.”
Garcia added that the Serapong Course was in great shape.
“The course is looking great. Obviously we have had some rain here the last couple of weeks, I have heard. The fairways are soft and the ball is not running at all. The greens are great and they are rolling really nicely.” he said.
An added incentive for the players this week is the opportunity to win a spot in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie in July. The leading four players who finish in the top 12 and ties at the SMBC Singapore Open who are not already exempt will earn places in The Open.
Ten players, including Garcia, Perez, Oosthuizen, Green and Miyazto are already exempt for the Major.
The US$1 million SMBC Singapore Open is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and the Japan Golf Tour Organisation.