Bring on the tough guys
In all his years of turning up for the showpiece, Rory McIlroy said he has never seen the composite course at the Hong Kong Golf Club pose such a tough challenge. Third-round leader Alvaro Quiros hopes it will get 'tougher' as he makes a strong bid today to add the US$2.75 million UBS Hong Kong Open to the handful of titles he has to his name.
Like a modern-day Don Quixote, Spaniard Quiros came out a winner after tilting with the Fanling course, and will take a one-shot lead into the last round after carding a three-under 67 for an aggregate 10-under 200 yesterday.
In second-place is Swede Peter Hanson on nine-under, while Thai Pariya Junhasavasdikul and South Korean Y.E. Yang were joint-third on eight under.
While Quiros revelled in the conditions with a bogey-free round, his playing partner and overnight co-leader McIlroy failed to come to grips with a course he loves and barely managed to break even, shooting 70, modest by his high standards. It left the US Open champion three shots adrift of Quiros and with a mountain to climb in his present exhausted state.
'I have never seen the course play as tough as this,' McIlroy said. 'The longer rough and greens as firm and fast as they are have made it tough. That's why the scoring has not been as good as it's been in previous years.'
Quiros, 28, doesn't mind, and he hopes the conditions will get even harder today - as the curtain comes down on Swiss bankers UBS' seven-year involvement with the Hong Kong Open.
'I think the tougher the conditions, the better it will be for me. This is because from tee to green I'm okay, so it means I'm going to struggle a little bit less technically than the others,' said Quiros
'If it is difficult, the others are going to have fewer chances to make birdies. It will be a short number which wins this tournament tomorrow,' added Quiros, hoping to add the Hong Kong Open crown to five victories on the European Tour.
The Cadiz-based Quiros, ranked 44th in the world, has the honour of being labeled as the longest hitter on the European Tour. With an average of 312 yards off the tee this season, he is always fancied to make mincemeat of this short course.
But from day one - from the time he has had a share of the lead - Quiros has admitted to being 'uncomfortable' with the Fanling layout, simply because of its tight fairways.
But it didn't seem to bother him yesterday, or for that matter over the first two rounds, as he added a third sub-par round. With scores of 64, 69 and 67, the Spaniard is now hoping to complete a wire-to-wire victory.
McIlroy began disastrously, bogeying the fourth and fifth holes to lose his hold on the lead, which he had a share of from the first day.
'I was not good. I just didn't have anything out there. Mentally, I was not up to it and just struggled to get anything going,' said the 22-year-old Northern Irishman, who finished on seven-under 203.
McIlroy salvaged his round with two birdies on the back nine to finish on seven under for the tournament, but it was too little, too late with Quiros having extended his lead to 10-under. The crowd favourite admitted he will have a tough job to catch Quiros.
'He is very solid. He was hitting the fairways and the greens and was giving himself a lot of opportunities. But considering the way I played, even par isn't that bad a score,' said McIlroy, who is still suffering from fatigue and the remaining ill-effects of a stomach bug which resulted in him being on a drip for three days last month.
'I'm still only three shots behind and If I can get off to a decent start and get a couple of birdies, I have a chance of catching up and putting some pressure on the others,' McIlroy said.