Overseas challenge threatens Hardwick hopes
JOANN Hardwick faces a formidable overseas challenge in this week's Hongkong Open women's amateur championship at Fanling.
No fewer than 141 players from 13 countries have entered the 54-hole JAL-sponsored event - among them many of the region's outstanding players.
However, Hongkong number one Hardwick will not be overawed by the opposition in what may be her last attempt at winning the title before joining the ranks of the professionals.
''This may possibly be my final chance, but I've been playing well and am feeling quite confident,'' said Hardwick, who has been in contention on several previous occasions and finished third last year.
Having spent the past five weeks touring the region as an amateur player on the professional women's Asian Circuit, the 27-year-old is in the groove.
''Generally I've been happy with my form and I certainly think I've become more level-headed on the golf course,'' said Hardwick, who produced some of the best golf of her career in last week's Taiwan Open.
After scores of 70 and 72 at the Chang Gung Golf Club, Hardwick was just one shot off the pace going into the final round and, although she slipped to equal ninth, easily won the amateur section.
A repeat performance over the Eden Course this week would be a major boost to Hardwick's prospects of being allowed to forego the preliminary test for the Japanese LPGA Tour in October.
Not that it will be easy for Hardwick, one of 23 players in the starting line-up with a handicap of six or better.
Heading the list of challengers are Indian Queen Sirikit Cup representative Simi Mehra and Australian Carmen Hajjar who, like Hardwick, both play off scratch.
Other players with international experience are Malaysian Irene Yeoh, Ruby Chico of the Philippines, Yukiko Oita and past champion Momoko Yamaguchi from Japan and Wong Lixia and Lam Shiyu from China's Zhongshan Hot Spring club.
Much attention will also be focused on Filipina teenager Carmelette Villaroman. Last month in Manila the highly-rated 17-year-old held her nerve to win the Philippine Open from Hardwick.
Injury has forced Taiwan's Huang Yu-chen to forego her defence of the title.