Guts and glory seem to go hand in hand for England's Lee Westwood, the highest-ranked player and headline act at the US$2.5 million Hong Kong Open, which gets underway at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling tomorrow.
Westwood, who is making his Hong Kong debut and is the leading money winner on the European Tour, believes it is 'guts' that have seen him claim the world number-four spot for the second time in his career. And he described it quite colourfully.
'It says something about my mentality and, for want of a better word, my balls. Guts, I suppose,' Westwood said yesterday. 'Getting back to fourth in the world means a lot to me, more to me than anything else I have done.'
The 36-year-old from Nottinghamshire will be going head to head with Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, who lies second on the money list as The Race to Dubai hots up in Hong Kong - the last week of tournament action before the season-ending (European Tour) Dubai World Championship.
McIlroy, 20, is in second spot, only Euro52,000 (HK$604,000) behind Westwood, with both having earned more than Euro2.3 million in prize money. The Northern Irishman is hoping to go one better than last year's finish, when he was runner-up to Taiwan's Lin Wen-tang after a thrilling play-off, but Westwood believed the omens were looking good for him before Hong Kong.
'I was world number four for about two to three weeks in 2000, the same year when I won the [European Tour] money list. I hope I can do the same thing again.'
If Westwood does, there is a huge pot of gold waiting for him. The winner of the European Tour order of merit will receive a US$1.5 million bonus in Dubai. And so winning in Hong Kong, which is jointly sanctioned between the Asian Tour and the European Tour, will cement his position.
However, Westwood says money will not be the motivating factor for him this week - rather the glory of winning 'the old and prestigious' Hong Kong Open.
'It will certainly help to win, but I'm not thinking about the money list this week, more about the Hong Kong Open as it is a very old and prestigious tournament, and one I have never won,' Westwood said.
'I have watched it on TV over the years. It is a very tight and tree-lined course. If you hit it straight, get it in position and hole a few putts, you generally do well.'
Defending champion Lin knows all about that. A year ago, he hit one of the best shots in the history of this tournament when he pulled out his pitching wedge and, from a forest of trees, produced a magical 130-yard approach shot to within four feet to keep his hopes alive in the play-off.
'Luck obviously played a big part in that shot,' Lin said yesterday. 'Every stroke is important in a tournament, but of course my most memorable shot was that one from behind the trees.'
He said the pressure would be on him, with a stellar field assembled by the organisers who want to give Swiss banking giants UBS a grand send-off, with this being their final year as title sponsors. 'The field this week is very strong. But I'm playing well and I'm glad to be back in Hong Kong to defend my title,' Lin said.
Apart from Westwood and McIlroy, Asia's first winner of a major, Yang Yong-eun of South Korea, and former British Open champions Mark O'Meara and Ben Curtis have also turned up.
McIlroy finished ahead of Westwood at last week's World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, in fourth, three shots behind American Phil Mickelson.
Westwood was tied for eighth spot. 'Every cloud has a silver lining; I stayed ahead in The Race to Dubai and moved up to fourth in the world rankings,' he said.
'The goal this week is to win. It would be nice to go into the last week in the number-one spot. It would mean if I win this event, I win the money list and fate is in my hands.'