SHANGHAI: Alexander Levy is aiming to retain his Volvo China Open title in Shanghai this week but will be expecting a strong challenge from emerging homegrown teenage star Li Haotong.
The 24-year-old Frenchman clinched his maiden title at the same tournament last year when it was held in Shenzhen, but will be battling Chinese number one Li to clinch the top prize in the $3.2 million event when the pair tee off together in the marquee grouping on Thursday.
Levy could become the first man to retain the title in the 21-year history of the tournament, which is co-sanctioned by the European and OneAsia Tours, at the 7,296-yard, par 72 Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club.
“It’s nice to go back to a tournament as defending champion, especially when it’s your first title,” he said, according to information released by the organisers.
“I just want to enjoy the week. I’m playing well and my game is in good shape so hopefully it should be fun.”
Levy said he drew confidence from his victory in China last year. “I knew then that my game was good enough and my mentality was strong enough to win big tournaments,” he said.
Returning to the scene of his victory at the Genzon Golf Club at the Shenzhen International last week, Levy finished six-under par with an encouraging performance.
But 19-year-old Li made headlines at the tournament after being pipped in a playoff Sunday by Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat to narrowly miss out on his maiden European Tour title to add to four victories in China last year.
Li, who is based at the Lake Malaren Golf Club in Shanghai, won three times on the PGA China Tour in 2014 and became the youngest winner of a OneAsia Tour event when he won the Nanshan China Masters in October.
He is regarded as a potential golfing superstar, finishing second on the 2014 OneAsia Tour order of merit and has risen to 125th in the world rankings following his exploits at Shenzhen.
Also among the 156-man field in Shanghai is 16-year-old Guan Tianlang, who became an international golfing sensation after making a record-breaking Masters debut in 2013.
Aged just 14, he became the youngest to play a major and made the cut before finishing as the tournament’s leading amateur with a four-round total of 12 over par.
China’s golfing trailblazer remains an amateur and recently said he would “take things slowly” as his career develops, with his education coming first. He struggled at Shenzhen where he failed to make the cut on 18-over par.
Thirteen of the world’s top 100 players are competing in Shanghai, including Volvo World Match Play champion Mikko Ilonen, Francesco Molinari and Marcel Siem.
The entry list also includes 2015 European Tour event winners such as Gary Stal, Andrew Dodt, Trevor Fisher Junior and Richie Ramsay.