HONG KONG - Asia's golf elite hope to end a 10-year title draught as the $2.5 million Hong Kong Open tees off today at the colonial-era Fanling Course. Most Europeans competing at the event will be ’wise and experienced,’ raising the hopes of victory on the Asian side, but the European players have no intention of going down without a fight.
An ageing cast of former Major winners has raised Asian hopes of breaking a 10-year win drought at this week's $2.5-million Hong Kong Open.
Defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez, 44, leads an experienced European contingent that boasts 14 Major titles but only one since the turn of the century.
"There are a lot of Europeans here and they're strong, but Asians surely have the game to win here," said India's Jeev Milkha Singh, who won last week's Singapore Open. "There's a lot of talent among the Asian players. It all comes down to how he's going to handle himself mentally in the last round."
September's losing Ryder Cup captain Nick Faldo will be reunited with victorious 2004 skipper Bernhard Langer, also 51, who won Hong Kong Open in 1991.
Other Major winners include Jose Maria Olazabal, Paul Lawrie and Michael Campbell, while Colin Montgomerie will hope to add to his 2005 title.
"The last time I won the Hong Kong Open in 2005, I won the pro-am, and I've just won the pro-am again," Montgomerie said. "You can see the thing written, it's in the stars now!"
Meanwhile, 1991 PGA Championship and 1995 Open winner John 'Wild Thing' Daly will be happy to make the cut after several years of turmoil that has seen his ranking plummet to as low as 788.
The course celebrates its 50th Open
The colonial-era Fanling course is celebrating its 50th Open in the grips of the global downturn, with Hong Kong entering recession last week and title sponsor UBS losing nearly $50 billion in the sub-prime crisis.
However, a strong Asian contingent will be optimistic about claiming their first win here since South Korea's Kang Wook-Soon in 1998.
India's Singh leads the charge after holding off the likes of Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els to win by a shot in Singapore.
"I'm confident and I'm looking forward to this week. Obviously after a win, I'm on a high," he said.
The victory made Singh the Asian Tour's first single-season millionaire and all but sealed the regional merit title with earnings of $1.4 million.
Fellow Indians S.S.P. Chowrasia and Arjun Atwal have also tasted victory this year, as have New Zealand's Mark Brown and Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand.
China will be represented by last year's merit champion Liang Wenchong and Zhang Lianwei.
"I hope to be not only the first Chinese, but the first Asian player in the last 10 years to win it," said Zhang.
"I have a lot of friends and supporters here and we have many top players from both Asia and Europe, so it will be an exciting week."
European rookie of the year on board
Other contenders include winless Briton Oliver Wilson, who will look to shed his 'nearly-man' tag after his eighth runner-up finish at this month's HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
European rookie of the year Pablo Larrazabal joins Jimenez, 2001 winner Olazabal and 2006 champion Jose Manuel Lara in a strong Spanish group hoping to seal the country's fourth victory in five editions.
Jimenez, who won in 2004 and 2007, can become only the second European to win the Hong Kong Open three times after Peter Thomson's hat trick in the 1960s. Taiwan's Hsieh Yung-yo is the only player with four victories.
In a further sign of the event's pedigree, Greg Norman has triumphed twice at Fanling, and Tom Watson, Ian Woosnam and Harrington are also former winners.