Shanghai: World number two Lee Westwood and US Open champion Rory McIlroy are headlining a powerful field chasing the biggest winner's cheque in golf at the Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters starting Thursday.
The glitzy competition is the latest exhibition in China to attract some of the game's biggest names but as an unsanctioned event it carries no rankings points for the players, leading to criticism of "vanity" projects.
Englishman Westwood and McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, will vie for the $2 million winner's cheque at the inaugural tournament along with Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley.
Three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington of Ireland and South Africa's two-time Major champion Retief Goosen will also make the trip to China to play on the Jack Nicklaus-designed course.
The tournament also features England's Ian Poulter, Scottish veteran Colin Montgomerie and China's Zhang Lian-wei, all eyeing a chunk of the $5 million purse. K.J. Choi heads a three-strong Korean contingent.
"This week we have everything, a great field of players, a great course and organisation and a great city. It is a perfect setting, a world class course for a world class field," said Zhang.
The huge winner's purse, currently the biggest in the game, has raised eyebrows among established tours, anxious such exhibition events, including the recent made-for-TV Shui On Land China Golf Challenge, are undermining the game's structure.
Asian Tour executive chairman Kyi Hla Han criticised the organisers for undermining the development of Chinese and Asian players, saying such "vanity" tournaments only catered to the world's elite.
But tournament organisers strongly defended the event, which has strong backing from Chinese golfing authorities and the government.
"We have ten Chinese players and three Korean players in the tournament flying the flag for Asia. These events give rare opportunities to Chinese and Asian players to go up against the game's best players," said a tournament spokesman.
"This gives them better exposure and development chances and also attracts golfing fans."
On the greens there is intrigue for the first day of play on Thursday with Westwood and McIlroy playing in a group with with China's Zhang.
Westwood has been reported as being upset by McIlroy's sudden sacking of their joint agent, International Sport Management's Chubby Chandler, last Friday tweeting: "Bizarre decision!".