Colin Montgomerie voices sorrow at downgrade for Hong Kong Open
Colin Montgomerie says it's a shame the city's oldest professional sports tournament will lose its prestigious European Tour slot next year
Colin Montgomerie, a former Hong Kong Open winner, lamented the event's diminishing prestige yesterday.
The 54th edition of the city's oldest professional sports tournament starts on Thursday, but it will be the last time it occupies the prestigious slot on the European Tour calendar as the penultimate event to count before the season-ending World Tour Championship in Dubai.
As organisers struggled to find a sponsor this year - they were saved late on by a one-off agreement with UBS - the European Tour accepted a lucrative deal to give the penultimate slot to a new tournament in Turkey.
Next year's Hong Kong Open will be played early in the season, while the European Tour also warned last week that it would not bankroll the event if similar sponsorship difficulties are encountered. That led to suggestions that the tournament could revert back to being an Asian Tour-only event, after being co-sanctioned since 2001.
"Colin Montgomerie tees off again in Hong Kong" video by Hedy Bok
This devaluation of the tournament is a worry for Montgomerie who has lost count of the number of times he has competed at Fanling. He first played the course as part of Scotland's team in the Eisenhower Trophy in 1984, and won the Hong Kong Open in 2005.
"It is a shame," Montgomerie said at the 1010 Golf Challenge at Clearwater Bay Golf Club yesterday. "It's a great position, being the final event before Dubai. People have got their cards to find or are trying to get into Dubai, and it's been a great tradition for Hong Kong.
"The European Tour have been bankrolling a few events over the years and they can't keep doing that. It's a shame if it does leave our tour or leave the European side of it. [Co-sanctioning] has worked really well so I'm so glad UBS has taken it on for another year."
Montgomerie finished five-over at the Barclays Singapore Open on Sunday, another event in the region which seems set to be downgraded in prize money and status after Barclays decided not to continue sponsoring it.
"It doesn't surprise me that tournaments are struggling to find sponsors," Montgomerie said. Barclays' former chief executive, Bob Diamond, who resigned in July over the Libor-fixing scandal, "was a very keen golfer and I think that's what's needed", he said. "If one of the top guys happens to be a mad keen golfer, we're fortunate.
"It's very difficult for companies to be seen to be sponsoring golf events on the right hand and yet the left hand is laying off workers. It doesn't add up."
Montgomerie, who is approaching 50 and without a win since 2007, said the days when he entered every tournament expecting to win had gone. However, the Hong Kong Open was a rare exception.
"When I was No 1 in Europe, I was actually quite disappointed when I didn't [win every tournament]. The belief obviously goes, I'm 49 now.
"But the one course in the year that I look forward to playing is this one. Fanling, I think, is the shortest course on the European Tour, which favours me.
"I'm swinging the club quite well now, if I can hole some putts I have an opportunity of winning … Hong Kong is a whole different ball game, and I've come here to win."