HONG KONG (AP) – Only one golfer has successfully retained the Hong Kong Open title in 53 years. Rory McIlroy wants to be the second.
McIlroy drilled a brilliant bunker shot on the last hole a year ago to win the title by two strokes, becoming the tournament's youngest winner at 22 after being runner-up in 2008 and 2009.
He first competed in Hong Kong at 16, when he got a glimpse of the area off mainland China.
“I first came here as a junior in the Faldo Series and players like Oliver Fisher and myself and a few others stayed at the golf club at Fanling and it was great fun and I've always really enjoyed the golf course,'' McIlroy said. “Then when it became a European Tour event, I came back and stayed in the city on Hong Kong island and I've just really enjoyed the buzz and the atmosphere.''
Only Taiwan's Hsieh Yung-yo has won the event two years in a row, in 1963-64.
“It's here also that I have had some great experiences as a player, taking part in one of the best playoffs ever against Lin Wen-tang in 2009,'' McIlroy said. “Then I was able to finally put my name on the Hong Kong Open trophy last year.''
McIlroy will face 19-year-old Matteo Manassero, the new Singapore Open winner, who will play the opening two rounds with McIlroy.
“When I think of Rory, I think he has an impossible game to imitate,'' the Italian teen said. “He is so good and he plays probably the best game in the world.''
While McIlroy has sealed the European Tour money title, others are eager to make the top 115 and secure automatic tour membership for next year.
Four players will come off the money list for not playing the minimum of 13 events, including Scotland's Martin Laird who has played in 10. The cutoff will be 119th.
Rhys Davies of Wales currently holds that position, and two former tour winners in Bradley Dredge (121st) and Andrew Dodt (122nd) are within $2,400) of Davies.
Also, Portugal's Ricardo Santos, this year's winner of the Madeira Islands Open, is looking to seal the rookie of the year award.