The UBS Hong Kong Open burst to life in the centre of Hong Kong with a traditional Chinese Lion Dance greeting star players Grégory Bourdy, John Daly, Liang Wen-chong, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy to the $2.5 million showpiece.
The longest running sporting event in Hong Kong, the UBS Hong Kong Open is one of the most sought after titles in golf with defending champion Bourdy, Daly, Liang, McDowell and McIlroy desperate to get their hands on the famous trophy at the Hong Kong Golf Club on Sunday.
Bourdy is hoping to become the first player in over 40 years to successfully defend the prestigious title. The last man to do so was Chinese Taipei’s Hsieh Yung-yo in 1964.
“My aim is a simple one: to have a successful defence of the tournament,” said the Frenchman at UBS’s lavish headquarters in the centre of Hong Kong.
“It is such a great event and has such great traditions that it was a real honour to win here last year. Every time I look at the trophy I see some of the great names of golf that have won here and it makes me very proud and also makes me want to do my best to play well and try to win again.”
The man Bourdy beat into second place last year, World Number Ten McIlroy would love to go one better than his runner-up place of the previous two editions of the UBS Hong Kong Open.
The Northern Irishman, sporting some new, funky blonde highlights in his unmistakeable hairstyle, was beaten in an unforgettable sudden-death play-off with Lin Wen-tang of Chinese Taipei in 2008 before Bourdy beat him to the title 12 months ago.
“I would love to win the tournament, especially after coming so close in the past two years,” confirmed McIlroy. “I don’t think that I could have done any more in 2008 because I came up against Lin Wen-tang who was making birdies from all over the place; and then last year Greg was just too good for us all.
“I finished on 17 under par last year and I think that most other years that would have been good enough over the Hong Kong Golf Club but not with Greg playing so well. Hopefully this year it’s my turn.”
There are plenty of players in the field hoping that the Golfing Gods will shine upon them this week but perhaps none more so than McDowell as he looks to take advantage of the absence of Martin Kaymer and render the German’s lead in The Race to Dubai to insignificance at this the penultimate event of The European Tour season.
If McDowell can claim the €301,446 first prize on offer in Hong Kong, he would trail Kaymer by less than €70,000 going into the $7.5 million season-ending Dubai World Championship presented by DP World next week.
“There is a little bit of pressure on me to perform as it is a very important week for me with Martin not being her,” said the World Number Nine. “It’s important that I play well and get a good result to try and cut a bit more into that lead of his in The Race to Dubai.
“The Hong Kong Golf Club is a course that I like and a course that I know I can play well on. I love coming to this city as well – it is one of the truly great cities of Asia and UBS put on a great show for the players to enjoy and perform to the best of their abilities.”
One man who rarely fails to put on a show for any crowd around the world is Daly. The two-time Major champion is hopeful that he has finally overcome the shoulder injuries and putting problems that have plagued his season and reproduce the form he showed during his last visit to the UBS Hong Kong Open in 2008 when he delighted the Fanling crowds with a brilliant final round 63.
“My game is good so there are expectations on myself to play well,” said the former US PGA and Open Champion. “My ball striking is great at the moment and has been all season – it is just my putting that has let me down. I have probably made more cuts this year than at any other time in my career but I just haven’t been able to do anything on the weekends because my putting has let me down.
“I think Graeme summed it up the best when I played with him at the Dunhill Links last month. We finished the round and he said to me ‘you are hitting it great and putting crap’ – that kind of sums the year up for me! But I am hoping to play well this week – I have done well around this course in the past and the golf course is in great condition. I feel good.”
China’s Number One player Liang, meanwhile, will carry the hopes of a nation into the first round on Thursday.
“I have a chance to win this week,” said Liang, who had a top ten finish in Singapore last week. “I know the golf course well and I’ve got my family and coach (Kel Llewellyn) here with me and they will give me good support. I feel at home in Hong Kong.
“My game is feeling good. The golf course is not long and you need to have a good short game which is the key.”