Preview: UBS Hong Kong Open

One of the most pivotal tournaments on the European Tour calendar will be contested this week at the Hong Kong Golf Club, Fanling. Whilst it may not be the European Tour finale, it has the potential to set up an incredibly exciting end to a magnificent season. There are some big names in the field, and all eyes will once again be on Rory McIlroy, the only player in the field capable of depriving Luke Donald of one of the greatest ever achievements in sport.  It has taken Donald only twelve tournaments in Europe to accumulate an almost unassailable sum of money, but a first or second place finish for the Ulsterman would stimulate some added intrigue in Dubai. There can surely be very few golf fans that want Donald to be overhauled, but as the thrilling culmination to the 2011 PGA Tour season showed, it is more of a spectacle when it comes down to the wire. This week, though, further sub plots include the battle for the top sixty on the Race to Dubai money list (to win the chance to play for a staggering $7.5 million next week), and the battle for the top 118, to retain playing privileges for the 2012 season.

Peter Lawrie and Stephen Gallacher currently occupy the 60th and 61st spots in the Race to Dubai, with the latter only 17,000 euros behind the former. However, as Lawrie rightly points out, in the grand scheme of things, missing out on one lucrative tournament is not a big issue. “It could be far worse”, admits Lawrie, “I could be down at the other end fighting for my card and looking at going to Tour School, so worrying about the Dubai World Championship or going to Tour School is just a completely different thing.” No need to tell that to fellow Irishman, Gareth Maybin, who is precariously placed at 120th in the standings. He is currently 9,000 euros away from earning his card for next season, but with Markus Brier, Phillip Price and Marco Tullo (115th, 116th and 117th, respectively) not playing this week, it is in his hands. Keith Horne occupies the 119th spot, and simply making the cut might be enough for him. With lucrative sponsorship deals, expansion into the East, and ever increasing prize pools, more pressure is arguably exerted on those fighting for their European Tour cards than will be on those in contention for victory come Sunday.

Winner: Justin Rose – Has played very well of late, including two top ten finishes at the Barclays Singapore Open and the WGC HSBC Champions Tournament. Both he, and defending champion Ian Poulter, will be buoyed by a tied second place finish at the World Cup of Golf last week, which included a sumptuous nine under par 63 in the final round foursomes.

To Come Close: Rory McIlroy – Has a fabulous record in his last four European Tour events, including two third places finished, and played some good golf last week. This is a big tournament for McIlroy. He will have doubts about his putting after last week, and it will be interesting to see if he can stay in contention for the Race to Dubai crown.

Notable Groups:

Molinari (E), McIlory, Poulter – The pressure will be off for Edoardo, who is placed comfortably in the top sixty. Poulter won this tournament last year, and played some good golf last week, most notably in round four. McIlroy is full of confidence, and will play aggressive golf to try and distance himself from the field.

Fisher (R), Liang and Daly – Ross Fisher is one of the most exciting players on tour to watch when he gets on a roll. Will be fascinating to see how Daly is received after his shocking behavior in Australia, when he stormed off the golf course after running out of balls at the Australian Open.

Rose, Jiménez, Yang – Star studded three ball. Yang will have a massive following in his native Asia, as will Jiménez, who is rightly popular all over the world. Rose, as covered, is playing well, and if he can find some form on the greens and maintain the consistency of his long game, he won’t be far away from the lead on Sunday.

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