Rory McIlroy begins the defense of his UBS Hong Kong Open crown today fresh from topping the European money list, vowing there will be no letup as he seeks to end his season with a flourish.
The 23-year-old sealed the Race to Dubai at the weekend courtesy of third place at the Singapore Open, becoming only the second man after Englishman Luke Donald to win both the European Tour and PGA Tour money titles in the same year.
During a fine season, the Northern Irishman has also won his second major at the PGA Championship in August and just weeks later, was part of the European Ryder Cup team that snatched a dramatic victory at Medinah.
“Hong Kong has always been a place I’ve enjoyed coming to,” the world No. 1 said. “It’s always got a great buzz, a great atmosphere, and there is just something about Fanling and the Hong Kong Golf Club that I really enjoy. This week will be extra special after wrapping up The Race to Dubai last week in Singapore, and I can’t wait to tee up as the defending champion this week.”
No player has retained the Hong Kong Open title since Taiwan’s Hsieh Yung-yo in 1964, but McIlroy has an enviable record at the event, finishing runner-up in 2008 and 2009, and tied for sixth in 2010.
“I’ve come close [to winning] a couple of times and last year I was lucky enough to finally get my first win here,” said McIlroy, adding that he did not feel he had played his best golf in recent tournaments. “Obviously, I want to finish the year off as strongly as possible. It would be great to defend here and have a big conclusion in Dubai next week also.”
Threats to McIlroy come from a trio of Major champions — Padraig Harrington, Paul Lawrie and Y.E. Yang, four-time PGA Tour winner Matt Kuchar and Matteo Manassero, fresh from winning the Singapore Open on Sunday.
Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez and victorious Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal are also in the field for the tournament, co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and the European Tour.
Scotland’s Lawrie, winner of The Open in 1999, is eager to cling onto his top-10 spot in the Race to Dubai with the season-ending World Tour Championship in Dubai coming immediately after the US$2 million Hong Kong event.
“I’m obviously 10th at the moment and just hanging on by my fingertips,” the 43-year-old said. “To finish in the top 10 would be pretty special.”
Three-time major champion Harrington, who won the Hong Kong Open in 2003 and was runner-up the following year, said the golf course was popular among players.
“Hong Kong is one of the best venues of the year. It stands out as a great golf course for me, but I think everybody here this week loves the course,” the Irishman said. “Sometimes you go to a place and half the field might like the course, whereas for the other half it might not suit them, but this week everybody loves the course.”
India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar, who has two Asian Tour titles this season, is chasing a strong finish in his bid to top the Order of Merit. He is currently fourth in the continent’s money list.
“Subconsciously, winning the Order of Merit title is at the back of my mind and it would be really great if I can take a step closer to winning it this week,” Bhullar said. “The way that I’ve been striking the ball and putting will definitely allow me to get some good scores this week.”