HONG KONG (AP) Defending champion Jose Manuel Lara is counting on his knowledge of the tricky par-70 course at the Fanling Golf Club to give him the edge over a tough field teeing off Thursday in the $2.25 million Hong Kong Open.
The Spaniard will be defending his title against the likes of 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir, two-time U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen, K.J. Choi of South Korea, Stuart Appleby of Australia and South Africa's Trevor Immelman.
Six-time Major winner Nick Faldo will also make a rare playing appearance.
Lara acknowledged it he is up against some stiff competition, but said the five times he's played at the Asian course would stand him in good stead.
"You have to know the greens. They are very tough, quite hilly, and if you miss them then it is very difficult to get up and down because of the Bermuda grass around the greens," he said. "For European players it is very hard."
Lara has had a tough year since his breakthrough win at last year's Hong Kong Open, struggling with a foot injury and finishing among the top 10 in just one tournament last month's Majorca Classic.
"That result in Mallorca was very important," he said. "Normally I make five top 10s every year, but this year I missed too many cuts. It's been a difficult year."
Lara said his foot was almost healed.
Another familiar face at the Hong Kong tournament, six-time PGA Tour winner Choi, who is hoping to go one better than his last appearance here in 2005, when he finished one stroke behind winner Colin Montgomerie.
"The course is tight this year. The greens are very soft, so putting is going to be important," Choi said. "It's a matter of how the players attack the green on the second shot, that's going to be the key here."
Weir, Appleby and Immelman will all be making their Hong Kong debuts.
"It's always exciting to take on a new challenge and I've heard great things about the Hong Kong Open and the galleries at Fanling," said Weir.
"The Open has had some great champions down the years, but never one from Canada, so I'll be doing my best to be the first."
South African Goosen, winner of the U.S. Open in 2001 and 2004, will be making his second appearance in Hong Kong after failing to make the cut in 2006.
"I'm looking to win, that's the main thing," Goosen said. "The swing changes I've been working on have made things a little difficult, but then the last few events I felt I was starting to hit the ball pretty nicely. So now it's just a case of trying to make a few putts and getting on a roll."
The first staged in 1959, this year's Hong Kong Open is co-sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours, and includes nine of Asia's top 10 players.