Four weeks after the thrilling Volvo Masters Andalucia brought the curtain down on the 2003 season, the first event of The 2004 European Tour International Schedule, the Omega Hong Kong Open, takes to the fairways of the Hong Kong Golf Club.
For the third year the tournament, which boasts a prize fund of US$700,000, will be jointly sanctioned between The European Tour and the Asian PGA Tour and will boast a strong representation from both continents.
Leading the way for The European Tour contingent are the Irish duo of Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington, along with Sweden’s Fredrik Jacobson, the players who finished second, third and fourth respectively on the 2003 Volvo Order of Merit.
For Jacobson, in particular, the return to Hong Kong will be a pleasant one as the victory there last December provided the springboard for his best season since he turned professional in 1994.
The 29 year old Swede had finished second six times on The European Tour before winning the Omega title, superb rounds of 63-64 over the weekend seeing him home by two shots with a 16 under par total of 260.
The confidence he gained in Asia saw him go on to win both the Algarve Open de Portugal in April and the Volvo Masters Andalucia, as well as finishing in the top ten at both the US Open Championship and the 132nd Open Golf Championship.
The man he succeeded as winner of Hong Kong's national Open, two-time Masters Tournament Champion, José Maria Olazábal, is also in the field this year, the Spaniard having won the tournament in 2002 by birdieing the final three holes and will always be remembered for hitting a majestic five iron to within inches of the cup on the 72nd hole.
While Jacobson and Olazábal will be treading familiar ground at the Hong Kong Golf Club, this year will mark the debut in the event for Clarke and Harrington, but both are no strangers to success in Asia.
Last year, Harrington won the first counting event on The 2003 European Tour International Schedule, the BMW Asian Open at Ta Shee Golf and Country Club in Taiwan, while Clarke tasted victory in The Crowns Tournament in Japan in 2001.
As well as being the first counting event towards the 2004 Volvo Order of Merit, the Omega Hong Kong Open is also the penultimate tournament on the 2003 Asian PGA Tour Order of Merit and the European Tour Member interest is strong there too.
Currently leading the way is two time European Tour winner, Arjun Atwal of India, with US$282,194, but hard on his heels is China’s Liang-Wei Zhang, winner of the Caltex Masters, presented by Carlsberg Singapore 2003, with US$245,570.