ONLY one golfer has successfully defended the Hong Kong Open title in 53 years and Rory McIlroy wants to be the second.
McIlroy holed a brilliant bunker shot on the last hole a year ago to win the title by two strokes, becoming the tournament’s youngest winner at 22 after being runner-up in 2008 and 2009. He first competed in Hong Kong at 16, when he fell in love with the tiny islands off mainland China.
“I first came here as a junior in the Faldo Series and players like Oliver Fisher and myself and a few others stayed at the golf club at Fanling and it was great fun and I’ve always really enjoyed the golf course,” McIlroy said. “Then, when it became a European Tour event, I came back and stayed in the city on Hong Kong island and I’ve just really enjoyed the buzz and the atmosphere.
“It’s here also that I have had some great experiences as a player, taking part in one of the best play-offs ever against Lin Wen-tang in 2009 and then I was able to finally put my name on the Hong Kong Open trophy last year.
“I wasn’t feeling all that well on the Saturday and went into the final round three behind, but shot a 65, holing a bunker shot at the last to beat Peter Hanson by two, so that was a nice way to finish it off. I would love to end my season by doing that again this year.”
Only Taiwan’s Hsieh Yung-yo has won the event two years in a row, in 1963-64.
McIlroy is assured of strong opposition in the form of 19-year-old Matteo Manassero, the new Singapore Open winner, who will play the opening two rounds with McIlroy. “When I think of Rory, I think he has an impossible game to imitate,” the Italian teenager said. “He is so good and he plays probably the best game in the world.”
While McIlroy has sealed the European Tour money title, others are keen to make the top 115 and thereby secure automatic tour membership for next year.
Four players will come off the money list for not playing the minimum of 13 events, including Scotland’s Martin Laird, who has played just 10, and the cut-off will be 119th. Rhys Davies of Wales currently holds that position, and two former tour winners in compatriot Bradley Dredge (121st) and Australia’s Andrew Dodt (122nd) are within €1,911 of Davies. Portugal’s Ricardo Santos, this year’s winner of the Madeira Islands Open, is also looking to seal the rookie of the year award.