Inside the ropes
How low can you go? Maybe ask American Anthony Kang, who had to be feeling pretty good about himself after torching Fanling with a second round score of nine-under-par 61. But within a few hours Kang was a forgotten man when Ian Poulter trumped him with a 60 to set a course and tournament record. Well, kind of a record because with the preferred lies rule in effect it could not go in the books as an 'official' record.
But official or not, one thing is beyond interpretation: the players are slaying poor old Fanling. Poulter said that after shooting a 60 he was still disappointed with his score, which should tell you all you need to know about the course.
After three days of play there is only one player over par and that is Malaysia's Iain Steel, who somehow managed to shoot a 76 yesterday. Otherwise, even the most pedestrian rounds are scoring well, and if you are looking for one of the primary reasons, repeat after me: lift, clean and place.
From the broadcast booth, to the locker room, on over to the caddyshack, and the press tent, not to mention the fans in the gallery, the big question is why? There hasn't been rain for close to a month and if you dialled room service, you wouldn't have been able to order up more ideal weather and conditions. Yet players are being allowed to pick up and tidy their balls everywhere but in the sand traps.
'Some of the fairways are a bit inconsistent,' says Mikael Eriksson, the European Tour tournament director who made the call before round one. 'You could have two balls lying on the fairway next to each other and they could have different lies and that is what we avoid with lift, clean and place.'
For those of a more conspiratorial bent, low scores are certainly good for business and news of Poulter's 60 spread like wildfire through global golf circles.
'It's good to have low scores like Poulter shooting a 60,' says Eriksson. 'You wouldn't be able to do that without having a course in good condition or without having the greens in great condition, and that's a very good credit to the golf course and the maintenance staff.'
I know what you're thinking because I'm thinking it myself. If the course is in such good condition why do we need lift, clean and place? When asked what could be the reason for 'inconsistent' fairways, Hong Kong Golf Club officials refused to comment.
Eriksson said: 'We decide it on a daily basis and we put it in place for round one and two and have decided to keep it for the last two rounds as well.'
It's true that even hackers like me have a hard time losing a ball at Fanling. The rough is basically non-existent and some of the fairways are quite forgiving. Still, third-round leader Poulter is at 19 under par and Graeme McDowell is 17 under. If form holds, both could very well finish this thing at 25 under. How much of a good thing is too much?
'I think it's great,' says Sherri Wong, who is following Poulter's group. 'I love to see birdies and I really like to see eagles.'
Last year's champion, Gregory Bourdy, finished at 19 under, followed by Rory McIlroy at 17, the exact same places as the two leaders after three rounds.
It would be folly to dismiss the low scores as merely a result of preferred lies. Both Poulter and McDowell are superb ball strikers who still have to make the shots to take advantage of a pliant course. And all the players, not just the leaders, get to play preferred lies.
'We're quite surprised to be playing preferred lies,' says McDowell. 'Two weeks ago in Shanghai we should have played them but didn't. Still, I can see where the tour is coming from because some of the fairways are a bit beat up, nothing major but slightly. Ninety per cent of the time your ball is fine but there is another 10 per cent of the time where you can get a bit unlucky. Of course, it's the same for everyone but it's amazing how it affects scoring, it makes it two shots a round easier.'
While Poulter admitted that any time you have a chance to lift up your ball and clean it you have to take advantage of it on every shot, he wasn't necessarily buying it as the reason for the lower scores.
'I have not had many bad lies this week,' he said. 'But how many shots is it worth? Don't know, you might actually play better if the ball is down. How can you play that advantage into a score, I am not sure.'
Certainly, life would be a lot easier if we could lift, clean and place things. After all, if it works for the best players in the game, why not you and me? Still, the question begs asking one more time - how low can you go? We're about to find out in the final round and whether you like low scores or not, it should still make for riveting viewing.