Miguel Angel Jiménez will attempt to create a little piece of modern day golfing history this week when he aims for a successful defence of the US$1.2 million UBS Hong Kong Open at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling.The ponytailed Spaniard triumphed by one shot last year in a thrilling duel with the 2004 champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland and South African James Kingston and will be looking to get his hands on the silverware once again in this, the first year of a four-year sponsorship deal with new tournament backers UBS.
The tournament itself has a rich history, stretching back to 1959 and there has been a successful defending champion in the past, namely Taipei’s Hsieh Yung-yo in 1963-64. But since the event became a co-sanctioned tournament in 2002, the champions have been different every year, namely José Maria Olazábal (2002), Fredrik Jacobson (2003), Harrington (2004) and Jiménez (2005).
“I am very much looking forward to defending the UBS Hong Kong Open and, in particular, to returning to Asia where I have so many great memories,” said Jiménez, who also won the 2004 Johnnie Walker Classic in Bangkok and the 2004 BMW Asian Open in China.
However, Jiménez will face a tough task in his quest for a second consecutive triumph from a high quality field featuring the cream of talent from both The European Tour and the Asian Tour.
Leading the European challenge will be Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie, on a high from not only having received the OBE from the Prince of Wales last week, but also having secured an unprecedented eighth European Tour Order of Merit title at the conclusion of October’s Volvo Masters in Spain.
“I am really pleased to be playing in this tournament,” said the Scot, who claimed his 29th European Tour title at the beginning of October at the Home of Golf in St Andrews, when he won the dunhill links championship. “I always enjoy visiting Hong Kong, it is such a wonderful city.”
Joining Montgomerie high on the confidence bandwagon will be, of course, England's Paul Casey after his stunning play-off victory across the border in last week's Volvo China Open at the Shenzhen Golf Club.
Leading the Asian Tour challenge will be Korean favourite KJ Choi, who is based in the United States, but who has travelled back to more familiar territory in a bid to get his hands on the prestigious title.
“The UBS Hong Kong Open has always been one of the premier events in Asia and that is how it is perceived by the players,” said Choi, who tasted European Tour success in the 2003 Linde German Masters.
“It is a tournament I would love to win someday. Personally, for me, it’s always been a friendly event to play in and I feel good about coming back to Hong Kong. I think my game is at a very comfortable level now. Although there is always some room for improvement in golf, I am happy with things coming into the week.”
Over the years, several composite courses have been used at the Hong Kong Golf Club but the quality of the winners, whatever the layout, is impressive. It all started with Mr Lu back in 1959 and he won again in 1974.
Australian legend Peter Thomson took the title three times between 1960 and 1967 and, as well as including many of the top Asian golfers, the Roll of Honour also features notable names such as Major winners Bernhard Langer, Greg Norman, Tom Watson and current European Ryder Cup Captain Ian Woosnam.
Set high in the hills above Hong Kong not far from the border with China, Fanling can be reached these days in 30 minutes by fast train. Indeed five minutes by taxi from the station and you are at the gates of the club itself.
Of course, getting there in previous years was not always that easy. Early settlers must have been desperately keen because the trip involved travelling by rickshaw, horse and boat and when none of those were available, Shank’s Pony.
Yet the dedication of the early golfers created, over the years, a golf club and course of which they can be justly proud. Not just one course but three, all named after courses at St Andrews – the Old, the New and the Eden - on ground once inhospitably barren, but now lush and beautiful with flowers cared for as dedicatedly as the fairways and greens.
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