Jimenez, Monty to tee up in HK Open
'I am looking forward very much to defending my title,' says the Spaniard
Cigar-chomping defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez and the European Tour's current number one Colin Montgomerie will be among a star-studded field competing for record prize money at December's UBS Hong Kong Open at Fanling.
Organisers yesterday confirmed that colourful Spaniard Jimenez would be back to defend the title he won by one shot last year, warding off a stiff last-day challenge from Ryder Cup teammate Padraig Harrington of Ireland and James Kingston of South Africa.
'I am looking forward very much to defending my title, and in particular returning to Asia. I have so many great memories from last year,' said Jimenez in a taped video message. 'I love coming to Hong Kong - the people are so friendly and they really enjoy their golf.'
Jimenez will be returning to a changed tournament - different sponsors and more money to be won. UBS, one of the world's top financial firms, has taken over as title sponsor from Omega. They have signed on for four years - from this year's 47th Hong Kong Open to the 50th Open in 2008.
'We are committed to making the Hong Kong Open one of the biggest golf tournaments in Asia. We have increased the prize money this year by 50 per cent and by the time the 50th anniversary comes around, the prize money will double,' said Ned Wills, head of sponsorship for UBS, yesterday.
The December 1-4 tournament, which is co-sanctioned by the Asian and European Tours, will offer record prize money of US$1.2 million, up from US$800,000 last year. The sponsors have promised to raise the prize money every year, and up to US$ 2.5 million in 2008.
'This tournament has come a long way since 1959 when the first Open was held. At that time the prize money was #1,000 and the sponsors were the South China Morning Post,' said William Stone, captain of the Hong Kong Golf Club, the traditional venue of Hong Kong's oldest professional sporting event.
Over the years the tournament has been won by eight major champions including Greg Norman (1979, 1983) Ian Woosnam (1987), Bernhard Langer (1991), Tom Watson (1992) and Jose Maria Olazabal (2001).
The biggest challenge facing the Asian Tour players will be to break the domination of European golfers who have won the past six tournaments - Swede Patrick Sjoland in 1999, Simon Dyson of England in 2000, Spain's Olazabal the following year, Fredrik Jacobson of Sweden in 2002, Harrington in 2003 and Jimenez last year.
The task will be even more formidable this time with the brooding presence of Montgomerie around. The Scot, Europe's 2004 Ryder Cup hero, is currently playing some of the best golf of his career and will be keen to make his first visit to the Hong Kong Open a memorable one.
'We are pleased to confirm that these two big names will appear in Hong Kong. And we are working very hard to add more stars to the list,' said Wills.
The tournament has been awarded the 'M' mark status by the Government's Major Sports Event Committee. Hong Kong Golf Association treasurer Mike Grimsdick revealed that the government would pump in $6 million on a sliding scale over the next three years. This year the event will get $3 million, $2 million in 2006, and $1 million in 2007.
'We are very grateful to the support from the government. This money cannot be spent on getting players down. We can only spend it on marketing and promotional use so that it will raise the profile of the event,' Grimsdick said.