Published on December 22, 2007
Anders Hansen and Charlie Wi were men with a common aim a year ago - but they will be fierce rivals when they make their Royal Trophy debuts in Thailand next month.
They could not have imagined they would be on opposite sides in such a prestigious event as they rubbed shoulders in the US towards the end of 2006, when they both decided to break into the ultra-competitive US PGA Tour. Both performed superbly to earn the right to play alongside Tiger Woods and company, but Hansen did not take full advantage of that success, mainly because he concentrated on playing in Europe following his second triumph in one of the European Tour's biggest events, the European PGA Championship at Wentworth.
The PGA Championship is the richest tournament in Europe, after only the British Open, and attracts one of the strongest fields of the year.
The Danish golfer clinched his success in dramatic style, holing a curling 25 footer for a winning birdie at the first extra hole after forcing his way into a play-off with home crowd favourite Justin Rose. Hansen also left the likes of Ernie Els trailing in his wake as he battled to a victory that catapulted him up in the European Tour's Order of Merit.
Winning such a big event once would look very good on any golfer's curriculum - but to win it twice, as Hansen has now done, is an eye-catching achievement. His first Wentworth win was even more impressive, as it was his maiden victory, and he achieved it in record-breaking style.
His winning total of 269 over Wentworth's famous West Course - 19 under par - was a shot better than the old record shared by two of Europe's greatest golfers, Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer.
Hansen clearly feels at home in that elite company. He played the final 36 holes of the 2006 Dubai Desert Classic alongside world No 1 Woods and double US Open champion Retief Goosen, and seemed far from overwhelmed as he finished a close third.
But he admitted he will have a few butterflies in his stomach when he represents Europe for the first time at the third edition of the Royal Trophy which will take place at Amata Spring Country Club from January 11 to 13.
"Thomas Bjorn has set the target for all Danish golfers by appearing in both the Ryder Cup and the first edition of the Royal Trophy, and I'm extremely proud to have been selected to play for Europe," Hansen said.
"A legend like Seve Ballesteros can have his pick of the world class players on the European Tour, so for him to decide I'm worthy of this honour will do wonders for my confidence."
"I have had a very good year, with the highlight naturally being my second Wentworth victory, although I also put in a couple of pleasing performances in America, in particular finishing 12th at the US PGA Championship.
"I chose to play in both the European Tour and the US PGA Tour because I want to become a truly international player and give myself a chance to compete in the Majors. Playing in big events like the Royal Trophy is another very important step along that road."
Korean ace Wi did not follow Hansen into the winner's enclosure in 2007, but he came desperately close at the US Bank Championship in Milwaukee, where rounds of 70-66-66-68 saw him finish runner-up - and earn a cheque for just under US$300,000.
A victory in America - his base since he enjoyed a tremendous career as a college player at the University of California, where he was a first team All-American selection in 1995 - would have been a welcome addition to Wi's impressive collection.
His nine career victories on the Asian, Japanese and European Tours include the 2006 Malaysian Open, but he will not want to remind Thailand's golf lovers of that victory. His one stroke win denied Thai superstar Thongchai Jaidee a hat-trick of victories in the tournament.
But as a member of the impressive-looking Asian Team being put together by Captain Joe Ozaki, he is guaranteed a very warm welcome.
"It will be good to be playing on the same side as Jaidee. We had some great battles over the years, particularly in 2002 when we were battling for first and second places on the Asian Tour Order of Merit," Wi said.