Teen McIlroy tipped to make big HK impact

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 November, 2007, 12:00am

Two years ago, Rory McIlroy played at Fanling in the company of some of Europe's up-and-coming youngsters in the Faldo Series final. He will return next week as a fully fledged professional for the UBS Hong Kong Open which begins next Thursday.

Northern Ireland wunderkind McIlroy is among a strong field headed by major winners Mike Weir of Canada and South African Retief Goosen who have entered the US$2.25 million tournament jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.

The 18-year-old will return with his reputation enhanced. At last month's Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews in Scotland, he became the youngest player ever to earn a European Tour card by finishing third.

At this year's British Open, McIlroy (pictured), then an amateur, emerged as the only player to shoot a bogey-free first round - a three-under-par 68 - to lie three shots off the pace and one stroke ahead of Tiger Woods.

'I think he'll be able to sleep all right,' McIlroy joked afterwards. 'But, yeah, it's a pretty special feeling to say you shot one better than Tiger.'

Some experts have said he is a star-in-waiting.

'It is great that Hong Kong fans will be able to watch him in action next weekend. While most of the attention will be on drawcards like Weir and Goosen, this tournament has great depth and it will be unwise to neglect players like McIlroy,' said a Hong Kong Open spokesman.