The European Tour returns to the Far East this week for the final tournament of the 2015 regular season.
The UBS Hong Kong Open was first established in 1959 but only joined the schedule in 2001 when double Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal took the title.
For some, like Justin Rose, it’s the chance to bank some Race To Dubai points before the four-tournament Final Series which tees off in Turkey next week.
For others, it’s the final opportunity to retain their playing privileges for next season. Only the top 110 keep their cards.
Here’s a list of those around the bubble mark (those with entries this week are in bold):
105 Johann Carlsson, 106 Oliver Fisher, 107 Scott Jamieson, 108 Renato Paratore, 109 Chris Paisley, 110 Seve Benson, 111 Prom Meesawat, 112 SSP Chawrasia, 113 Anders Hansen, 114 Matthew Nixon, 115 Mikael Lundberg, 116 Tom Lewis, 117 Adrian Otaegui, 118 Matt Ford, 119 Ben Evans, 120 Padraig Harrington, 121 Florian Fritsch, 122 Daniel Gaunt, 123 Peter Lawrie, 124 Kevin Phelan, 125 Roope Kakko
For those who like a big of geography/history, Hong Kong is a former colony of the UK and is situated on the southern coast of China. It’s an autonomous territory and Hong Kongers have their own separate passports.
Fanling Golf Course
Fanling is a very short 6,699-yard par 70 with the front nine measuring only 3,144 yards. The two par fives are the 551-yard 3rd and 529-yard 13th. This is how Justin Rose describes it: “Fanling is a very traditional, tree-lined, tight course. It’s not long, but a great test of golf and not easy – as the winning score usually tells you.” It features Bermuda greens while the fairways are a mix of Bermuda and Zoysia. Four the of 18 holes dogleg left while two dogleg right.
Winners, winning scores, stats
2014 -14 Scott Hend (DD: 1, DA: 37, GIR: 5, Scr: 3, PA: 26)
2013 -12 Miguel Angel Jimenez (DD: 42, DA: 31, GIR: 8, Scr: 23, PA: 14)
2012 -15 Miguel Angel Jimenez (DD: 39, DA: 9, GIR: 11, Scr: 1, PA: 11)
2011 -12 Rory McIlroy (DD: 11, DA: 25, GIR: 1, Scr: 6, PA: 15)
2010 -22 Ian Poulter (DD: 29, DA: 6, GIR: 3, Scr: 2, PA: 12)
Notes: The stats suggest that hitting greens in regulation is the recipe for success at Fanling. All the last five winners were ranked in the top 11 for the week. Scrambling is also a key component.
Hend’s win ended a four-year run of victories for European Ryder Cup players. Jimenez also took the title in 2005 and 2007.
Temperatures look locked in at around 90 degrees for all four tournament days. Cloud will fight it out with sunshine above the towering Hong Kong skyline and it will feel humid throughout with little wind to cool the players off.
The Leading Contenders
Rose jets in to Hong Kong on the back of a T6 in the Frys.com Open in California where his challenge stalled with a closing 72. Looking to this week, he told europeantour.com, “Hong Kong is one of my favourite cities in the world, and Fanling is a great golf course. I haven’t played there for four years now, but decided to add the tournament to my schedule to give myself as good a chance as possible of winning The Race to Dubai.” He’s currently in fifth place. In his last nine worldwide starts, the Englishman has finished in the top six on less than six occasions. At this venue, his one previous start resulted in a missed cut (74-69) in 2011.
If a small, tight track doesn’t look a very good fit for DJ, note that the event was won last year by Scott Hend – a massive hitter, who sprays it all over the place. Then again, Hend had never made the top 60 in five previous visits so did he just have a week where it all clicked? Johnson is one of the better-travelled Americans and won on the Chinese mainland two years ago with a dominant performance in the HSBC Champions. He ended the FedExCup playoffs with three top 10s out of four and won three of his four matches in the recent Presidents Cup in South Korea so is rightly one of the favorites for victory this week.
Another welcome US visitor and, unlike Dustin Johnson, Reed is available for the European Tour fantasy game having taken out membership last year. Is he worth a pick though? A fourth spot in the Deutsche Bank Championship suggested he was going to be hot in the FedExCup playoffs but he finished 28th of 30 in the concluding Tour Championship and was a disappointing W1-L2-H1 in the recent Presidents Cup in South Korea. This is his tournament debut.
Ian Poulter (UPDATE)
Poulter makes a late dash to Hong Kong after falling out of the top 50 in the world. That knocked him out of the upcoming World Golf Championship event in Shanghai and means he has to squeeze this event in to play the minimum number of 13 events and keep his European Tour Membership for next season. It's a good event for Poulter to turn up in as he boasts a win (2010) and two top fives in his last three starts at Fanling.
After his big breakthrough victory in the British Masters two weeks ago, Fitzpatrick will have his eyes on another move up the Race To Dubai. That Woburn win and three other top threes since early July have elevated him to 12th place so the much-heralded rookie is more than living up to the hype. This is his first appearance in the Hong Kong Open but his last visit to this corner of Asia saw Fitzpatrick post T6 in the Foshan Open in China.
G-Mac was tweeting pictures of the Hong Kong skyline on Sunday so has arrived early. He’s not had this event on his schedule for five years but previous visits proved profitable. He played it every year from 2007 to 2011 and cracked the top 20 each time (6-11-18-5). He likes shorter courses like these and this looks a good event for him to finally post a big finish after hinting at it in his last three starts – T36 European Open, T18 Alfred Dunhill Links and T30 British Masters.
Miguel Angel Jimenez
The sight of the Spaniard lighting up a victory cigar (to be accompanied later with a glass of red) has become a familiar one in this tournament. He’s won it four times, the first in 2004, the second in 2007 and the last two back-to-back in 2012-2013. Shock, horror then when he missed the cut last year. The veteran’s last three starts have all been on the main European Tour and he’s cashed in them all – T11 in the Open d’Italia, T36 in the European Open (3rd greens in reg) and T54 in the British Masters.
Lahiri is just 2-for-5 in this event although he did post T12 two years ago. This season he’s made a big leap up the world rankings thanks to two wins and both came in Asia – his home Indian Open and the Maybank Malaysian Open in a three-week streak in February. Since then he’s taken it to another level with a T5 in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits while last week he finished runner-up in the Macau Open (6th for greens in reg). Perhaps best to ignore the Presidents Cup where he lost all three matches!
Like fellow Asian Lahiri, Jaidee deserves immediate respect when the European Tour heads to his home continent. Jaidee has had some big paydays this year with a second place in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and a victory in the Porsche European Open just two starts ago helping him to 10th on the Race To Dubai. He’s been ultra-consistent in this event with eight straight top 20 finishes dating back to 2005. They include a second place in 2007. The Thai only managed T36 in the Macau Open last week while he was 1-1-1 in the recent Presidents Cup.
Hanson has found a groove in the last few weeks, connecting top 20s at the European Open, Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and British Masters. Fanling seems an obvious venue for him to continue his top 20 streak as he’s made the top five in two of his last three visits. True, they were back in 2011 (3rd) and 2007 (5th) but he has his irons dialled in right now (2nd GIR Woburn, 3rd GIR Alfred Dunhill) so could make a big impact again.
With previous course form of 74-72-62-MC-MC, the Aussie bomber looked a poor fit for Fanling but he made a mockery of that logic 12 months ago when shooting three 67s and a 66 to take victory. On another level, it didn’t surprise as he’s played the vast majority of his golf in Asia and racked up seven Asian Tour wins. The very latest came last Sunday when he shot 20-under to capture the Macau Open so he’ll arrive in Hong Kong again in high spirits. He also made the top four in last month’s European Open in Germany.
The Next Rung
This has always been a good course for the steady Australian and his record shows it. He’s 7-for-7 and has finished in the top 11 five times, including T3 in 2012 and T5 last year. After a quiet spell, he returned to form with an impressive T5 in the British Masters at Woburn two weeks ago when closing with a pair of 67s.
Since the start of July, the Swede has won the Open d’Italia (his first European Tour success) and picked off three five further top 15s although he’s cooled off a little in recent starts (MC-T38). In this tournament, he’s cracked the top 25 in both of the last two visits after missing the cut in both 2010 and 2011 so is likely to be popular with fantasy managers or those who fancy an each-way bet.
The Frenchman still appears hard to fathom and previous course form here won’t inspire managers to get him on board. He’s played it just once and missed the cut with rounds of 74-69 in 2011. Dubuisson does hit plenty of greens which should help his cause but, without doubt, even in a 10-man fantasy line-up he’s a borderline pick here.
This is Horsey’s first start in Hong Kong since a T15 in 2012 while he also posted T21 the year before after opening with a 64 so he knows how to score at Fanling. It’s only two months since he won the Made In Denmark (his fourth European Tour success) and since then the 30-year-old has finished third in the European Open and T9 at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. He slots in at 48th on the Race To Dubai.
Not for the first time in his career, Uihlein pulled out due to a bad back in his latest start. That was at the British Masters but he’s scheduled to return to action in Hong Kong. This will be his first look at Fanling but he’s certainly enjoyed his visits to the mainland with top 10s in the 2015 China Open, 2015 Shenzhen International and 2013 BMW Masters. The American’s last show of promise in Europe was a T12 in last month’s European Open in Germany.
The big-hitting Dane took fifth place in Hong Kong last year and also posted a top 25 on debut in 2013. He brings current form to the table too. Bjerregaard was T3 at the Open d’Italia, T5 at the Porsche European Open in Germany and, after two missed cuts, shot a pair of weekend 66s to post T9 in last week’s Portugal Masters.
He’s been globetrotting over the last few months, popping up in Switzerland, South Africa, Russia, his native Brazil, Taiwan and Macau. But wherever he’s pegged it up, Da Silva has impressed and boasts six top 11s in his last eight worldwide starts. The 43-year-old has finished T35 and T30 in the last two editions of the Hong Kong Open and is 3-for-3 overall.
The American capped a run of four straight top 25s with third spot in the Open d’Italia before missing cuts at the European Open, Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and British Masters. However, he arrested that mini-slump with a top 15 in last week’s Macau Open. He’s also 2-for-2 in this event with a T12 in 2013 and won the 2014 Asian Tour Order of Merit so games/bettors should give Lipsky more than a cursory glance.
This is the veteran Thai’s first appearance since a T17 in 2011 while he’s 4-for-6 overall with a best of T7 back in 2003. Marksaeng plies his trade on the Japan Tour these days and has a win and five other top 12s in his last nine starts. He was also a winner on home soil in the Asian Tour’s Queen’s Cup in June so he won’t be short of confidence.
After looking as if he’d arrive in Hong Kong still sweating about his tour card, the Finn has sealed it with a perfectly-timed run of four straight top 25s. They include T7 at the KLM Open in the Netherlands and T9 in last week’s Portugal Masters. He can sprinkle in a bit of course form too after claiming T21 in this event 12 months ago.
The Aussie has done very little since winning February’s True Thailand Classic but this could be the time to play him. His two European Tour wins have both come in co-sanctioned events in Asia (also 2010 Avantha Masters) and he took T17 in last week’s Macau Open. Dodt hasn’t had the greatest success in this event, failing to cash in on good starts when T37 (R1 65) in 2012 and T47 (R1 66) in 2013.
You’d bet good money that he hailed from Spain but Espana is a Frenchman and in-form one at that. After a tricky season following his promotion from the Challenge Tour, the 25-year-old has delivered three top 25s in his last four starts and a T9 in Portugal last week wrapped up his card. He’ll be playing in his first Hong Kong Open but Espana did record a top 10 in last year’s Shankai Classic so does have a bit of regional form.
The Englishman is 119th on the Race To Dubai so needs to pull something out of the bag to keep his card. He’s certainly been trying his best, making seven of his last eight cuts and banking three top 20s but he’s still outside the magical top 110. His Driving Accuracy stats in recent weeks are excellent so he should be playing from the short grass a lot although he’ll need to sharpen up his short game. This is Evans’ debut in the event but he did finish runner-up on the Chinese mainland in last year’s Challenge Tour Foshan Open.
Who’s On The Team
Thongchai Jaidee is as solid a pick as you’ll ever find but, after a string of strong results here, this could easily be the year when he ices the cake with a win.
I’ll reveal my full 10-man line-up for the European Tour fantasy game on Tuesday.
One To Swerve
He’s the defending champion and won in Macau last week but extremely poor past course form and previous inconsistency means I’m going to take a gamble and avoid Scott Hend. Yep, call me a maverick.
2015 Fantasy Race to Dubai
Dave Tindall is our newest contributor, but he’s been a fixture in Europe. In addition to his weekly previews of European Tour events on Mondays, he’ll share his selections and analysis for the Fantasy Race to Dubai at EuropeanTour.com.
Pick 10 golfers. Players accumulate points based on Race to Dubai (R2D) points earned. Star player’s points are doubled. Unlimited team changes and unlimited star player changes are available each week.
A quiet week at the Portugal Masters with Sullivan not on the team and star pick Wiesberger fading but no damage. A drop of just 33 spots. Current position: 1,267.
Team Tindall (Team name: YESSIR!)
Miguel Angel Jimenez
Star Player: Thongchai Jaidee
Has made the top 20 in each of his last eight starts in Hong Kong. Winner of European Open just two starts ago.
- Justin Rose: T6 at Frys.com was eighth top 20 in last nine starts. Six of those are top 10s.
- Matt Fitzpatrick: Scored breakthrough win at Woburn. This looks another good course for him.
- Ian Poulter: Late entrant after falling out of world’s top 50. Form figures of 4-1-5 at Fanling.
- Graeme McDowell: Coming to the boil again and hasn’t finished outside top 18 here in four visits.
- Anirban Lahiri: Runner-up in last week’s Macau Open and T12 at Fanling two years ago.
- Miguel Angel Jimenez: Four-time winner of this event so simply can’t be left out.
- Peter Hanson: Back to form with three straight top 20s. Third on last appearance here in 2011.
- Marcus Fraser: Fifth at Woburn on latest start and a real course horse at Fanling.
- Rikard Karlberg: Won the Open d’Italia last month and has back-to-back top 25s in Hong Kong.