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Golf brings China, U.S. closer together with PGA Tour upgrade

November 4, 2012 -- Updated 2321 GMT (0721 HKT)
Ian Poulter claimed his second WGC title with victory at the HSBC Champions in Shenzhen on Sunday.
Ian Poulter claimed his second WGC title with victory at the HSBC Champions in Shenzhen on Sunday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chinese golf tournament to become major part of U.S. PGA Tour next season
  • HSBC Champions has been upgraded to an $8.5 million FedEx Cup playoff event
  • It is already one of the four World Golf Championships played every year
  • Ian Poulter wins the 2012 edition to become first Englishman with two WGC titlles

(CNN) -- China's status a business superpower is transferring to the sporting world -- and its golfing ambitions took another step towards the big leagues on Sunday.

Organizers of the HSBC Champions tournament announced that it has been upgraded to a full U.S. PGA Tour event, and will become part of the schedule for the prestigious end-of-season FedEx Cup playoffs.

The tournament, which is already one of the four World Golf Championship events played each year, will boost its prize fund from $7 million this year to $8.5 million.

Next year it will return to the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, where it was held for from 2005-2011 before going to Mission Hills in Shenzen for this week's staging -- which was won by Englishman Ian Poulter on Sunday.

"This is not so much a renewal as a rebirth -- it's a new dawn for HSBC Champions and for Asian golf which is now right at the top table of world golf," said Giles Morgan, head of sponsorship for the British multinational bank.

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Peter Hanson, center, and Francesco Molinari of Europe celebrate their team winning the 39th Ryder Cup on Sunday, September 30, in Medinah, Illinois. Europe produced the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history to defeat the United States and retain the trophy. See more of the best of CNN's photography. Peter Hanson, center, and Francesco Molinari of Europe celebrate their team winning the 39th Ryder Cup on Sunday, September 30, in Medinah, Illinois. Europe produced the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history to defeat the United States and retain the trophy. See more of the best of CNN's photography.
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"When we first came to China in 2005, our ambition was to create a world-class international golf tournament in an emerging market. Eight years on and the HSBC Champions, complete with full FedExCup points and an increased prize fund, is up there with the very best, and today's announcement represents a major step forward for golf in China.

"Our involvement in golf at this elite level is underpinned by our continuing sponsorship of youth development and grassroots programs, including the HSBC China Junior Open."

Chinese soccer clubs have recently been investing large amounts in foreign players and coaches, but golf has been steadily developing in the country for the past decade -- especially with the sport returning to the Olympics in 2016.

"We hope the event will continue to play an important role to help grow the game of golf and improve the competition level of China," said General Zhang Xiaoning, executive vice-president and secretary of the country's golf association.

China's development is already showing, with 14-year-old Guan Tian-Lang poised to make more history next year when he becomes the youngest player to start at the prestigious Masters Tournament in April.

He qualified by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship on Sunday, having already been the youngest player to line up at a European Tour event at this year's China Open.

The HSBC Champions tournament had previously been co-sanctioned by the Asian and European Tours, and has been won by top golfers such as Phil Mickelson, Y.E. Yang, Martin Kaymer and Sergio Garcia.

Poulter became the first Englishman to win two WGC events as he followed up his 2010 success at the Accenture Match Play by coming from behind to snatch the title on Sunday.

The world No. 26, a hero of the European team's Ryder Cup victory in September, went into the final round four shots off the lead but fired a superb seven-under-par 65 to win by two and claim the $1.2 million first prize.

"I've already spent the check last week. I'm not going to tell you what it is until it arrives and I've got it home safe and sound, but yes, it was a vehicle, and yes, it was very expensive," he told reporters, having also finished fourth at the lucrative BMW Masters in Shanghai last weekend.

Rory McIlroy kisses his prize after winning the 94th PGA Championship on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina on Sunday, August 12. See how the action unfolded here. Rory McIlroy kisses his prize after winning the 94th PGA Championship on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina on Sunday, August 12. See how the action unfolded here.
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Ernie Els of South Africa celebrates with the Claret Jug after his victory during the final round of play at the British Open at the Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club in England on Sunday, July 22. See all the action as it unfolds here. Ernie Els of South Africa celebrates with the Claret Jug after his victory during the final round of play at the British Open at the Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club in England on Sunday, July 22. See all the action as it unfolds here.
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Webb Simpson of the United States holds the U.S. Open trophy after his one-stroke victory in San Francisco on Sunday, June 17. Simpson finished the four-day event at one shot over par to secure his first major title. Webb Simpson of the United States holds the U.S. Open trophy after his one-stroke victory in San Francisco on Sunday, June 17. Simpson finished the four-day event at one shot over par to secure his first major title.
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"I definitely think it is a part continuation of The Ryder Cup. I played great and I felt like I holed putts at the right time, which I did."

It was Poulter's 12th European Tour win and lifted him up to fourth in the Race To Dubai standings ahead of next week's Singapore Open -- where world No. 1 Rory McIlroy will return to action.

The PGA Championship winner took the risk of skipping the HSBC Champions in order to rest, but remains on course to add the European Tour money list crown to his PGA Tour title after closest challenger Peter Hanson could finish only 24th equal with third-placed Justin Rose on Sunday.

The Northern Irishman has a lead of more than €800,000 ($1 million) with three tournaments to play before the $8 million finale in Dubai at the end of this month.

Poulter's second successive 65 left him clear of U.S. Ryder Cup rival Jason Dufner, who also surged up the leaderboard with a 64, Mickelson (68), South Africa's British Open champion veteran Ernie Els (67) and another American, Scott Piercy (65).

Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen had held a three-shot lead after Saturday's third round, but ended up tied for sixth on 18 under -- three behind Poulter -- after slumping to 72s.

Former world No. 1 Westwood again fell short on the big stage -- he has never won a major, and this was his 41st attempt to win a WGC title.

Oosthuizen won his first major at the 2010 British Open, and like that tournament the South African held a five-shot lead at the halfway stage here, but the world No. 11 was unable to add to his two titles this year.

First-round leader Adam Scott of Australia tied for ninth with defending champion Kaymer of Germany.

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