Weather holds the key, says Yang

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 November, 2009, 12:00am

It was perhaps fitting that Asia's first champion of a major, Yang Yong-eun, should pick the wind as the element that could play a crucial role in deciding the winner of the 51st edition of the UBS Hong Kong Open on Sunday. After all, the South Korean is nicknamed 'Son of the Wind'.

'If it is as windy as it was this afternoon, I feel the course will become trickier and you will also have to be accurate with your short game. I think the wind could become a huge factor this week,' said Yang, who was given the blustery handle in recognition of his windy birthplace - the island of Cheju.

The Hong Kong Open has been won by nine major champions: Peter Thomson, Kel Nagle, Orville Moody, Greg Norman, Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer, Tom Watson, Jose Maria Olazabal and the last being Padraig Harrington in 2003.

'I'm confident, but I've been in a bit of a slump since I won the PGA Championship,' Yang said. 'It is a strong field and, while I don't want to pinpoint anybody, there are a few players who are a bit more dangerous than others and who will be a threat.'

Hunting for glory will be marquee names such as England's Lee Westwood, the world number four, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, and former British Open champions and American first-timers to Hong Kong Mark O'Meara and Ben Curtis.

Yang can also expect a strong challenge from fellow Asians, led by Thai Thongchai Jaidee, Indian pair Jyoti Randhawa and Jeev Milkha Singh, China number one Liang Wenchong and defending champion Lin Wen-tang from Taiwan.

'The last time I played in Hong Kong was seven years ago,' Yang said after yesterday's pro-am. 'It was different then. There seem to be bigger buildings around. The course seems similar but the field has grown and got better.'

Against all expectations - most experts believed Yang's countryman K.J. Choi would be the first Asian to win a major - Yang pulled off a sensational win over Tiger Woods at the 91st US PGA Championship in August to earn his place in history.

The magnitude of that win seems to have taken its toll on the 37-year-old, who revealed that a continuing hectic schedule, and the pressure of being the first Asian to win a major, was a huge burden.

'It has been 11 weeks since the PGA Championship and this tournament is the ninth one I have taken part in,' he said. 'I have been all across the US, gone back to Korea, played in Bermuda, then Shanghai last week before arriving in Hong Kong.

'I'm enjoying it but my body is not following my heart and my brain and it has been tough. It has taken a toll. Everything seems rushed right now and I feel pushed.

'But I want to enjoy all this and hope I can work through it. If I get a win this week, or finish in the top 10, I will be happy.'

With rain forecast for the weekend, the wind could come into play and prove Yang right as the city's oldest professional sporting event enters its sixth decade.

The 144-strong field will be confronted this morning, at the start of the first round, with a tricky par-70 Composite Course which at 6,722 yards - it only has two par fives, the third and 13th holes - is considered short in the modern era.

And if it is windy, it will make things even more difficult.

When Lin won the Hong Kong Open, co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and the European Tour, last year, he broke a nine-year-long stranglehold European golfers had on this event.

Now 12 months on, the world has an Asian who is a major champion.

'Being Asia's first major winner is a dream come true and it is an honour to play in front of Asian fans,' Yang said.

'I'm aware that nine previous Hong Kong Open winners have been major champions and I will be doing my very best to add my name.'

Hectic schedule

Tournaments Yang has played in since his victory in the US PGA Championship: 9