Unho Park aiming to make it five wins in a row at HKPGA Championship
Australian has a remarkable record at the event, which starts on Monday; major winner Rich Beem will be out to dethrone him
Unho Park is looking to start 2016 with a bang by extending his remarkable winning streak at the Ageas HKPGA Championship, which gets underway on Monday at the Hong Kong Golf Club.
By his own admission, Park, who entered the record books last year when he became the first player in the history of the Championship to win four consecutive titles, hasn’t been at his best in recent months. The Singapore-based Australian found himself dangerously close to losing his Asian Tour card before finishing in 63rd spot on the Order of Merit to secure his playing rights by a mere US$1,159.
But a return to Hong Kong has boosted his confidence and he is in bullish mood ahead of a Championship in which he has dominated since 2012.
“It wasn’t looking good for a while there,” said Park, who turns 42 today. “I didn’t finish the season as I would have liked but I managed to keep my card which was a relief. But that’s behind me now. I’m entering the year fresh and I’m determined to put in a strong showing in Hong Kong.”
Although Park has never won on the Asian Tour, he can’t do anything else but triumph when he plays in the history-rich Ageas HKPGA Championship – something he is at a loss to explain.
“I don’t know what it is, but playing in the tournament clearly agrees with me,” said Park . “Making history 12 months ago was a real high point of my career – and I’m going to be trying my hardest to hold on to the trophy for a fifth time. The tournament field just keeps getting better and better, but I’m up for the challenge and can’t wait to get started.”
With title sponsors Ageas raising the prize money to a record HK$500,000, the 33rd edition of HKPGA Championship has attracted some notable names, including major champion Rich Beem, who held off Tiger Woods to win the 2002 PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
Beem, who made headlines last October when he gave up his sponsors’ exemption at the Hong Kong Open to allow Ian Poulter a place in the field when the Englishman was on the verge of losing his European Tour membership, will be paired with Park in the first round and is relishing his return to tournament golf.
“I absolutely love Hong Kong and am thrilled to be playing at the Ageas HKPGA Championship for the first time,” said the 45-year-old American, who plays a reduced schedule since joining UK-based broadcaster Sky Sports as a commentator. “It’s a tournament I’ve heard a lot about on my previous visits to Hong Kong, so it’s going to be fun to get out there and have the competitive juices flowing again.”
No local player has won the Championship since Dominique Boulet in 2004, but young Hong Kong pro Mickey Chan Chun-hung believes that the wait for a homegrown winner could soon be over.
“Obviously it makes it harder to win with players of the quality of Rich Beem and Unho Park in the field but the standard of Hong Kong players is always improving and we do have home course advantage,” said Chan, who pushed Park all the way in 2015 before finishing in solo third. “All of us Hong Kong guys will be trying our best to make sure the trophy stays in Hong Kong.”