World Team Event Starts in China

After a one-year absence, the $7.5 million Omega Mission Hills World Cup resumed November 24 at Mission Hills Golf Club on Hainan Island, China. The two-man, now-biennial team event was won in 2009 by Italians Edoardo Molinari and Francesco Molinari in Shenzhen, China.

The field is comprised of 56 players from 28 countries, with the victorious duo sharing the largest prize in Asian golf, $2.4 million. The format involves 72 holes of stroke play, with alternating rounds of four-ball (best-ball) and foursomes.

Among the top teams entered is Northern Ireland, represented by the past two U.S. Open champions, Graeme McDowell in 2010 and Rory McIlroy this year. The USA team includes Matt Kuchar - fresh off a win in last week's Presidents Cup in Australia - and Gary Woodland.

Other formidable squads include the Germans, with 2010 PGA champion Martin Kaymer and Alex Cejka; Sweden, with Robert Karlsson and Henrik Stenson - who captured the 2008 title; the South Africans with two major champions, 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen and 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.

Spain's team also looks strong, with the long-hitting Alvaro Quiros and the crafty veteran, Miguel Angel Jimenez, as does England with Ian Poulter and Justin Rose.

And of course there are the Molinaris, who became the first brother duo to take home the John Jay Hopkins trophy and first Italians to win the Omega Mission Hills World Cup.

"I think the most important thing is that we are playing quite well and we know each other very well, so I'm sure we will have a lot of fun again this week," said Edoardo, the older of the two brothers, prior to the tournament.

"Obviously it feels very good to be back here, even if it's a different venue. I think we both remember very well the emotions of that week and that Sunday. So we'll just try our best to repeat it this year," added Francesco.

The victory raised the profile of golf and the Molinari brothers in their native country. "It was a huge moment for Italian golf (when they won the World Cup in 2009). Nobody expected it, but it was a huge victory and obviously becoming world champions in any sport is big, not only for golfers, but for other non-golfers as well," said Francesco.

"We were really trying to get some huge results to make the sport grow in Italy. It was a bit of turning the corner (with their 2009 World Cup win) and we got a lot of publicity and golf started to be more and more popular."

The South African twosome is eagerly awaiting the chance to play together. "It's been nearly a decade since Charl and I played in team competition and we've been looking forward to this for some time," Oosthuizen said on Wednesday.

"I've always wanted to play in the World Cup. Some of South Africa's greatest players have played in it and won. I didn't qualify for the Presidents Cup team event in 2009 or last week and when I won the Open there was no World Cup as it's now held every two years."

"Between Louis and me, we know each other's games," added Schwartzel, a member of the International squad in the Presidents Cup. "We play almost every single week and we often play a practice round together. So I know how far he hits the ball and I know what he likes, what he doesn't like. I think that's a big advantage."

The South Africans have shown their unity by recently growing moustaches. "It's our little team spirit that we've (spotting moustaches) and we are trying to psyche our playing partners and scare the guys we are playing against," said Schwartzel with a smile.

The Ulstermen are also excited about their chances; McDowell and McIlroy finished second to the Molinaris in 2009. "Two years ago, Rory and I gave it a pretty good run and came up one short. We're excited to come back and I guess, get our revenge," said McDowell. "You can say I've got myself a decent partner this week. He's in great form and is the world's number two player."

McIlroy is the high-ranked player in the field and hopes to get over the hump this year. "It would be great to get ourselves into the position again with a chance to win," he said. "Graeme and I won a few times as individuals on the golf course, but to win as part of the team is very, very special and it's not something that we really get to experience that much. Hopefully we'll be able to get that chance on Sunday afternoon."

The tournament was originated by Canadian industrialist John Jay Hopkins in 1953 as the Canada Cup; the name was changed to the World Cup in 1967. Many iconic golfers have won the title over the decades, including Ben Hogan and Sam Snead in 1956; Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer - four times in the 1960s; Fred Couples and Davis Love III won four straight times from 1992-95; and Tiger Woods won two straight titles in 1999 and 2000 with Mark O'Meara and David Duval, respectively.

The Americans have won, by far, the most World Cup titles - 23 over the years. South Africa is next with five.

This year's event is at Mission Hills' Hainan Blackstone course, a par-73 layout that extends 7,777 yards from the tips.

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