Boost for HK Open, but European Tour and HKGA still face crunch talks
Swiss bank UBS returns as title sponsor, but Tour and HKGA chiefs still need to convince government to provide cash in a meeting today
Noel Prentice and Alvin Sallay
Swiss bank UBS will return as title sponsor of the Hong Kong Open as organisers today ask the government for extra cash to attract marquee players.
Vicky Jones, the European Tour's client services director in Asia, confirmed last night a deal had been struck with UBS just a few months out from the US$2.75 million tournament at Hong Kong Golf Club.
And a source hinted world number one Rory McIlroy would defy a hectic schedule and try to defend his title at the event, which is co-sanctioned by the European Tour and Asian Tour.
"I can confirm UBS will be the title sponsor," Jones said after arriving from Singapore last night to attend this morning's crucial meeting with the Mega Events Fund. "There are just a few contractual points remaining."
She also scoffed at a rumour the European Tour was considering pulling out of the tournament, Hong Kong's oldest professional sporting event, saying: "The event is secure."
"The European Tour is committed to the Hong Kong Open, with or without a sponsor," she said.
Jones and Hong Kong Golf Association officials will today try to convince the government's Mega Events Fund to provide multi-million-dollar funding.
"The meeting is important for the tournament in enhancing promotions and attracting star players," Jones said.
Last year the MEF gave the tournament a record HK$8 million which helped pay appearance fees for big-name players, including McIlroy, now a two-time major winner.
However, a number of high-profile names, including Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, have committed to playing elsewhere during the week of the open (November 15-18).
The European Tour has already cancelled four tournaments this year due to lack of sponsors - the Majorca Open, Czech Open, Madrid Masters and the Castellon Masters, which led to suggestions HK could be next on the chopping block. The European Tour has co-sanctioned the event along with the Asian Tour since 2001.
Hong Kong Golf Association Iain Valentine reiterated that the rumours were just that, and added: "The European Tour is sending an official to take part in our presentation to the government for funding and that says a lot. Our relationship with the European Tour is strong."
On McIlroy's reappearance, he said: "We are pretty sure McIlroy wants to play in Hong Kong again. We have been having discussions with him."
Another source said it was highly likely the Northern Irishman, the game's man of the moment with three victories in his last four starts, would return to Fanling.
UBS ended a seven-year relationship in 2011, leaving the event, which offered prize money of US$2.75 million last year, without a title sponsor. Omega was on the verge of stepping into the breach but had a last-minute change of heart.
McIlroy confirmed yesterday he would take part in the US$6 million Barclays Singapore Open the week before the Hong Kong Open.
This would mean he is set to play five successive weeks in Asia: the US$7 million BMW Masters (October 25-28 in Shanghai), the US$7 million WGC-HSBC Champions (November 1-4, Shenzhen), the Singapore Open, Hong Kong Open and the season-ending US$8 million DP World Tour Championship in Dubai (November 22-25).
"We always knew Poulter would not be returning to Hong Kong this year," Valentine added. "And as he and Rose are such good mates, they always like to travel together.
"But we are hopeful McIlroy will return to Hong Kong. The defending champion usually does."