Golf-Strong field gathers for Singapore Open

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SINGAPORE, Oct 30 (Reuters) A clutch of the world's leading golfers will need to master a tight, demanding island course to stay in the hunt for the lion's share of 4 million dollar when the Singapore Open tees off on Thursday.

Facing the players this week is a tight and demanding par-72 Serapong Course for the opening event of a lucrative month-long swing in the region that includes next week's Champions Tournament and the World Cup.

Australia's Adam Scott returns to the Southeast Asian nation in search of a hat-trick of titles but the world number six will need to overcome an impressive line-up of leading professionals including Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and K.J. Choi.

Mickelson, the American world number two, is making his first appearance in Asia and the 37-year-old is keen to make a good impression in conditions he likens to Hawaii.

''It's very tropical, great weather. When it's warm, you body feels good, it's looser and the ball travels a lot further as well,'' he told reporters today.

''The conditions will make chipping and the short game challenging so I am looking forward to that.'' Mickelson also pointed out that with the PGA Tour season becoming shorter following the introduction of the FedExCup, more international players will be making trips to Asia to compete in the year-end events.

Fiji's Singh is very much used to playing in the region, the 44-year-old cut his professional teeth on the Asian Tour and is looking forward to returning to a part of the world where he has enjoyed a great deal of success.

''I like playing in Asia. The last outing here I won the 2001 Singapore Masters, so the memories are good,'' Singh said.

''I have not played this course though, so it will be an experience.'' The world number 12 comes into the event on the back of a victory in South Korea and is full of confidence after making some minor adjustments to his swing.

''It was a good start to win after making the changes, knowing that it works. I feel very good about it and my chances here.'' US Open winners Angel Cabrera and Michael Campbell are also expected to put in strong performances this week with the Asian challenge led by China's Liang Wenchong, Thailand's Chapchai Nirat and local hope Mardan Marmat.

Asian Tour order of merit leader Liang is already a winner in the city-state this season, the 29-year-old taking the joint-sanctioned Singapore Masters title in a playoff back in March.

REUTERS TB KN1605

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