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European Tour woos Japanese golf fans

December 8, 2012 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Ryo Ishikawa is one of Japan's biggest hopes for the country's first major title.
Ryo Ishikawa is one of Japan's biggest hopes for the country's first major title.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • European Tour seeking to make inroads in the Japanese golf market
  • It launches a Japanese version of its website -- the first non-European language
  • European Tour has no tournaments in Japan, which has its own circuit
  • Ryo Ishikawa, one of golf's best young talents, will play in U.S. in 2013

(CNN) -- The European Tour is continuing its global expansion by targeting what it calls "one of the world's biggest golf markets."

It has launched a Japanese version of its official website -- the first in a non-European language following French, German and Spanish ones.

The European Tour does not have any tournaments in Japan, which has its own circuit, but has made big inroads in other Asian venues such as China, South Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore.

"It is another important step forward in our strategy of providing a localized experience of the European Tour for our fans all over the world," director of broadcasting and new media Mark Lichtenhein said.

"Given the globalization of the European Tour and popularity of golf and the Tour in Japan, this introduction of the first non-European language is an exciting new dimension to our multilingual strategy."

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The ruling body will team up with Golf Digest Online to provide the content, marking the beginning of its 2013 Race to Dubai season.

"We believe this agreement will bring huge benefit for Japanese audience, and we will make our best effort to showcase the great tournaments and players from the European Tour," Golf Digest Online editor in chief Yasuko Mukai said.

The news came as Masters champion Bubba Watson tipped young Japanese golfer Ryo Ishikawa to become the first player from his country to win a major title.

The American played with the 21-year-old for the first two rounds of this week's Thailand Championship -- they were tied for seventh after the third round on Saturday.

"He's good enough to win at any level -- he can win a major," Watson said of Ishikawa, who finished 108th on the PGA Tour this year and will play fulltime on the U.S. circuit in 2013.

They were 11 shots behind South Africa's Charl Schwartzel, who took a five-stroke advantage over Sweden's Daniel Chopra into Sunday's final round -- when he will seek to win his first title since earning his maiden major at the 2011 Masters.

The European Tour's opening event for the 2013 season has been plagued by bad weather in South Africa, where home hope Tim Clark shared the lead after a delayed first round on Saturday.

Clark and Denmark's Morten Orum Madsen both carded five-under-par 60 at the Nelson Mandela Championship, while South Africa's Lindani Ndwandwe was tied for third with England's Chris Lloyd on 61.

At the Australian Open, John Senden took a two-shot lead into Sunday's final round as he seeks to win his home event for the second time.

The 41-year-old Queenslander, champion in 2006, was being chased by Ryder Cup star Justin Rose -- who is bidding to become only the second European to win the tournament, following fellow Englishman Lee Westwood in 1997.

Meanwhile, China's Shanshan Feng won the Ladies European Tour's season-ending event in Dubai on Saturday, having led from the first round.

The world No. 6 preserved her five-shot lead in Saturday's final round to finish with the lowest total since the event began in 2006 -- her 21-under-par 267 beat the 18-under set by Sweden's Annika Sorenstam and In Kyung Kim of South Korea.

However, she was unable to beat Sorenstam's record winning margin of six shots from the inaugural staging as she carded 69 to stay clear of Dutch golfer Dewi Claire Schreefel.

Defending champion Lexi Thompson of the U.S. was tied for 10th, 12 shots behind the winner.

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