Heavy artillery: Olympic gold medallist Justin Rose and Masters champion Danny Willett set to light up Hong Kong Open
The English pair, who are currently ranked 10th and 11th in the world respectively, are expected to be confirmed to tee up at Fanling for the December 8-11 showpiece
Freshly minted Olympic champion Justin Rose has confirmed he’ll be back to defend his 2016 UBS Hong Kong Open title come December – and the Englishman promised to bring the gold medal he won in Rio de Janeiro along for the ride.
“To be able to share an Olympic gold medal with people is simply amazing,” said Rose. “People want to hold it, they want to feel the weight of it. The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind. I’ve been amazed at how positive the reaction has been. So I look forward to sharing it with everybody in Hong Kong.”
Rose was Wednesday announced as one of the marquee signings for the US$2 million event – scheduled for December 8-11 – alongside reigning Masters champion Danny Willett.
The two Englishmen featured for Great Britain at the Rio Games.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 28, 2016
“To have the reigning Masters champion in the field is a huge honour,” said Rose. “I’m sure he’ll represent himself incredibly well and he’ll be a tough guy to beat. Danny and I have become good friends over the summer and so I am excited that we’ll be reconnecting again in Hong Kong.
“Obviously I have great memories from last year. Any tournament you get to defend is very special. I will try to draw on all the positive experiences from last year and give it 100 per cent to defend the title.”
It’s a major coup to secure Rose’s return, given the global attention that greeted the 36-year-old’s history-making victory in Rio, where he beat Sweden’s British Open winner Henrik Stenson and American Matt Kucher as the sport returned to the Olympic fold after an absence of 112 years.
Rose has since been featured on billboards across London, and even holed his last putt at The Barclays tournament at the start of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup series on Sunday with that gold medal dangling around his neck.
Rose’s heroics helped save an event in Rio that had been shadowed by the fact the world’s top four players had not made themselves available to play – after he was seen as somewhat of a saviour at the Hong Kong Golf Club last year, too.
Golden Rose: European Tour officials confident Olympic Games hero Justin Rose will return to defend Hong Kong Open title
After two years in the doldrums, the return of Swiss bank UBS as title sponsor gave the event back its cachet – and the hope was the big names duly attracted would deliver.
While American world number two Dustin Johnson failed to make the cut, Rose held his nerve on a thrilling final day at Fanling, and held off Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard to win by a stroke.
“After missing the cut the last time I came to Hong Kong [in 2011], I came here last year respecting the course a little more,” said Rose. “I was a bit more aggressive with my iron place and it worked. I’ll obviously do my next to find a similar game plan [this year].”
Rose’s success last year also went a long way towards convincing the city’s Mega Events Fund to once again open their purse for the 2016 edition, with HK$15 million handed over to help lure top players.
Watch: Justin Rose wins the 2015 UBS Hong Kong Open
Willett, 28, certainly fits that description, with his three-stroke victory over American Jordan Spieth and England’s Lee Westwood at Augusta in April the crowning point of a career that has seen the Yorkshireman collect five titles, while also lining him up for a debut in the Ryder Cup.
Willett is no stranger to Fanling, having finished in a tie for 21st in 2011, 10 shots behind Rory McIlroy.
This year the Hong Kong Open will end the current Asian Tour season, while starting the European Tour’s 2016/17 schedule.
As well as announcing the two stars yesterday, tournament sponsors UBS revealed they had come to an agreement with the Hong Kong Golf Club to make entry to the first two days of the event free to the public.
“We want more of the community to become involved – and we are hoping to break the record of over 42,000 people we had for the tournament last year,” said Amy Lo, UBS’s country head and chief executive, Hong Kong group managing director.