José Manuel Lara will have the perfect preparation for his surprise Omega Mission Hills World Cup appearance next week when he defends the title in this week’s UBS Hong Kong Open at the Hong Kong Golf Club.
The 30 year old Spaniard claimed his maiden European Tour title in last year’s event, an impressive week’s showing seeing him win from wire-to-wire, eventually closing out a one shot victory over Juvic Pagunsan of the Philippines with a final round 69.
Now Lara is back to defend the title before he travels to mainland China to partner Miguel Angel Jiménez for Spain at Mission Hills after the withdrawal, through injury, of José Maria Olazábal.
Jiménez was amongst the first to congratulate his compatriot when he triumphed 12 months ago, realising exactly the emotions Lara was going through having himself won in Hong Kong in 2005.
“Miguel knew that the final round would be a tough day for me,” recalled Lara. “I have been close many times in the past and he knew that. So he said to me to forget about everything and think that you are alone on the course. I tried to stay in my bubble and it was a great day.
“So I am very happy to be playing with Miguel next week but, of course, I am looking forward to this week very much too and putting up a successful defence of my title here in Hong Kong.”
To do that, Lara will need to be on his best form as the line-up is one of the strongest in the event’s history.
Leading the way are two time US Open Champion Retief Goosen and 2003 Masters Tournament Champion Mike Weir of Canada who will be making his debut.
“I’m really looking forward to playing in Hong Kong for the first time,” said the 37 year old Weir who, after Phil Mickelson’s victory in last week HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai, will be attempting the second victory in succession by a left-hander on The European Tour – the first time in history that would have occurred.
As always a strong European Tour contingent will travel to Hong Kong for the second tournament of The 2008 European Tour International Schedule looking for valuable Order of Merit points, World Ranking points and, for the European players in particular, Ryder Cup points. Keeping a close eye on the latter equation will be European Captain Nick Faldo who will also play in Fanling.
Aside from Weir, there will also be a healthy representation of players who play predominantly on the US PGA Tour including Korea’s KJ Choi, a two time winner on the 2007 US PGA Tour, Sweden’s Daniel Chopra, who claimed his maiden US PGA Tour title last month in the Ginn sur Mer Classic in Florida, and eight time US PGA Tour winner Stuart Appleby of Australia.
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