In hot pursuit

Graeme McDowell pitches to the 10th green during the third round of the 2010 Andalucia Valderrama Masters.

Graeme McDowell pitches to the 10th green during the third round of the 2010 Andalucia Valderrama Masters.

Singapore Open

Nov. 11-14

Courses: Sentosa Golf Club, The Serapong (7,300 yards, par 71) and The Tanjong (6,577 yards, par 72), Thursday-Sunday.

Purse: $6 million. Winner's share: $1 million.

Last year: England's Ian Poulter led wire-to-wire, beating Wen-chong Liang a stroke.

FIVE TO WATCH

Ian Poulter: The defending champion is due a victory. Will returning to happy hunting grounds put him back in the winner’s circle?

Wen-chong Liang: Finished runner-up to Poulter last year. Can China’s top player go all the way this week?

Phil Mickelson: Like Poulter, Harrington, McDowell and Kaymer, he got big appearance money to be here in Singapore. Will he bring value to the money?

Jeev Milkha Singh: A former winner who should be used to the conditions from playing the Asian Tour for many years.

Rhys Davies: Has been fairly quiet the last half of the season, after a win in Morocco and five other top 10s. Time he got back on track. He has Asian Tour experience, so conditions should suit him.

Recession? What recession? Those words might be on everyone’s lips at this week’s Barclays Singapore Open.

Players turned up in one of the world’s biggest financial centers to find they’d earned a nice $1 million raise. This year’s prize fund is $6 million instead of the “paltry” $5 million offered last season.

Defending champion Ian Poulter earned $772,100 for winning last year. He’ll take home $993,698 if he repeats, and is not lacking any confidence.

“I like this golf course and it sets up very nicely for me, and I’ve got high expectations for myself,” said Poulter at the tournament media conference. “I’m sure other people have the same expectations for me as well and I don’t mind that.”

If Poulter does win, it will take his number of European Tour wins into double figures. The flamboyant Englishman won this year’s WGC–Accenture Match Play for his ninth European Tour victory.

Poulter has serious competition. Masters winner Phil Mickelson returns, hoping to improve on his T-14 finish last year.

Mickelson struggled last week in the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, failing to overtake England’s Lee Westwood for the world’s top ranking.

Mickelson said he hasn’t “played the way I liked to this year other than the win in Augusta.”

He isn’t the only major winner teeing it up. U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer, winner of the PGA Championship, are also in the field. The only conspicuous absence is British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, who is out because of an injury. However, the presence of three-time major champion Padraig Harrington more than makes up for the void.

The Singapore Open has been around on the Asian circuit since 1961. For 40 years it was a mainstay of Asian golf. However, it wasn’t played during 2002-04 due to lack of sponsorship.

Adam Scott put the tournament back on the map when it resurfaced in 2005. The Australian won that year and then successfully defended his title the following year. He is back this year hoping for a third.

Angel Cabrera and Jeev Milkha Singh, along with Poulter, lifted the trophy after Scott.

The European Tour’s involvement only stretches back to last year when the circuit began co-sanctioning the event with the Asian Tour. A new twist to this year’s tournament sees the field raised from 156 players to 204, with play over two courses – the Tanjong and Serapong courses at Sentosa Golf Club. Competitors will play a round over each course before the final two rounds are contested on the Serapong Course.

A number of intriguing subplots are in play this week. First, there’s a race to make the top 60 on the European money list, which means a spot in the $15 million Dubai World Championship, the season finale.

More intriguing is the battle between Kaymer and McDowell to become the year’s top European money leader. The German leads the Northern Irishman by €531,806, but McDowell can overcome that deficit by taking the first place check this week.

“If. . . Martin continues to play the way he has been doing the last four, five months, he’ll be hard to catch. But I’ll be trying hard,” McDowell said.

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