Top golfer McIlroy to return for UBS Hong Kong Open in November
Northern Irish superstar confirms his return to event after organisers receive HK$15 million handout, most of which will be spent on him
Ryder Cup hero and world number one Rory McIlroy yesterday confirmed he would defend his title at next month's UBS Hong Kong Open, a day after tournament organisers received a bumper HK$15 million handout from the government's Mega Events Fund (MEF).
It is believed that McIlroy's appearance fee alone will eat up the entire grant from the MEF for the November 15-18 tournament at the Hong Kong Golf Club.
"I can't wait to get back there and … defend my title. I have said it for a long time now that the Hong Kong Open is among my favourite tournaments anywhere in the world," McIlroy said.
"I absolutely love the city - it is just one of those places that has a great energy around it, and there is so much to do away from the golf course," added the 23-year-old Northern Irishman.
"When you find a course that you love going back to, you always tend to play well there, and that has been the case for me at Fanling."
Top government official Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung welcomed McIlroy's return, saying his presence at the tournament would "add vibrancy and colour to the city and further raise the profile of Hong Kong globally".
Lam, who is the MEF assessment committee chairman, added: "We are glad to see the gathering of more world-class players in this wonderful international tournament and we are pleased to sponsor the UBS Hong Kong Open once again."
The MEF gave HK$8 million to the event last year.
McIlroy has figured in the last few Hong Kong Opens. Last year, he turned up after winning his first major title to honour a US$300,000 two-year deal struck in 2010 with the title sponsor, UBS, which tied him to the event.
There were fears he might not return when the deal expired last year as the tournament would not be able to pay his appearance fee, which has since ballooned to around US$2 million.
Organisers refused to say how much McIlroy would be paid for turning up at Fanling, but it is believed that most, if not all, of the MEF money would be used in signing him up.
Kathryn Shih, the chief executive officer of UBS Wealth Management in Asia-Pacific, said: "In light of his electrifying displays at the Hong Kong Open … I am delighted that Rory is returning to defend his title this year … Rory's presence will add an extra dimension to the excitement.
"As a two-time major champion and the current world number one, Rory can be relied upon to add a special frisson to the tournament in any year, and I am sure that his presence will be welcomed by golf fans across the region."
McIlroy could have laid to claim to more than one Hong Kong Open title in his short career. He lost a thrilling sudden-death play-off to Lin Wen-tang in 2009, and then finished second to Frenchman Grégory Bourdy and sixth to Ian Poulter before his glorious victory last year, holing a bunker shot at the 18th to seal the win.
"That bunker shot is one of the best shots I have ever played," said McIlroy. "It doesn't get much better than holing a tough bunker shot on the 72nd hole on a Sunday afternoon to win a tournament - it was one of the best feelings I have had in my career, and I will never forget the crowd's reaction. It was an amazing win."