Hong Kong Open schedule squeeze a shame, agrees McIlroy
Northern Irish ace hopes player goodwill will reduce impact of tournament's likely loss of its prestigious place in tour calendar
World No 1 Rory McIlroy hopes the UBS Hong Kong Open - one of his favourite tournaments - will not suffer greatly after being squeezed out of the European's Tour season-ending Race To Dubai.
The defending champion said yesterday he did not know the Fanling showpiece would lose its prestigious slot from next year as the penultimate event before the US$8 million World Tour Championship in Dubai from November 25.
"This is the first time I am aware of this move," McIlroy, 23, said. "Hopefully it won't have too much of an impact on Hong Kong."
There are fears the change in the European Tour calendar next year will see many of the top players giving Hong Kong a miss as it will not play a crucial role in the money-list race, a move which 2005 champion Colin Montgomerie described as "a shame". The open has lost out to a new US$7 million tournament in Turkey and may now end up as one of the opening events on the tour.
"I guess it will depend on the individual to make the decision," McIlroy said. "Hong Kong is a great tournament, a great city and a great course. It will come down to personal choices."
What McIlroy's choice will be remained under wraps. The Northern Irishman said he was glad to be back in a city he has visited since 2006.
"Hong Kong's always a place I have enjoyed coming to. I first came here in 2006 when I played in the Faldo Junior series and my first Hong Kong Open was in 2007. This is my sixth consecutive tournament and I'm happy to say I have a good record, having come close to winning it twice before being lucky enough to win last year," he said.
McIlroy finished runner-up in 2008 and 2009 and tied for sixth in 2010. Last year he finally broke through at the Hong Kong Golf Club, holing his bunker shot at the 18th to win by two shots from Frenchman Gregory Havret.
His return was only guaranteed last month when the government agreed to give HK$16 million from its Mega Events Fund which also helped entice fellow major winners Padraig Harrington, Paul Lawrie and Yang Yong-eun, and others like American Matt Kuchar to Hong Kong.
How much was spent on McIlroy? "I can't say, the others will shoot me," joked Vincent Fung Hao-yin, secretary of the Mega Events Fund assessment committee. "But I can say that more than half of the government's money has gone on getting the players down and all of it didn't go on one player."
The tournament had also struggled to find a new sponsor before UBS agreed to come back for one more year, but prize money has been slashed from US$2.75 million to US$2 million.
"Yes, it was a very last-minute decision," admitted Kathryn Shih, chief executive, UBS wealth management, Asia Pacific, yesterday. "And it is too early to say if we will be around next year, too."
McIlroy will aim to become the first player since Taiwanese Hsieh Yung-yo to successfully defend the title. Hsieh won the tournament in 1963 and 1964.
He will have one less thing to worry about having already clinched the Race To Dubai. "Matteo [Manassero, winner of last week's Singapore Open] did me a favour and I'm glad to have wrapped it up," said McIlroy, who sealed it with a third-place finish in Singapore. "It's nice to come to Hong Kong and not have to worry about it."
McIlroy follows in the footsteps of England's Luke Donald by topping the money list on both sides of the Atlantic - winning US$8,047,952 on the US PGA Tour and €3,696,597 ((HK$36 million) on the European Tour.