Time has not stood still for Hong Kong's oldest professional sporting event, with a new, exciting era in the Hong Kong Open's 42-year-old history set to clock- in at Fanling this week. For the first time since its inauguration in 1959, the Omega-sponsored tournament will boast US$500,000 in prize money, making it one of the richest golfing gatherings in the region. For the first time also, the Open will be a fully-fledged event on the Asian PGA's Davidoff Tour, providing the climax to a memorable season that has seen the emergence of numerous outstanding young Asian prospects. Jock Mackie, president of the Hong Kong Golf Association (HKGA), the tournament's guardians, said: 'The association is delighted to welcome Omega on board as title sponsor of the SAR's flagship event, the Hong Kong Open. The tournament is one of the jewels in the crown of Asian golf and deserves such a reputed principal sponsor. 'With an increase in prize money of US$200,000 from last year and live television coverage of the weekend's play, the Omega Hong Kong Open will be one of our finest Open events.' Omega's backing of the Open is a continuation of the Swiss watchmaker's support of golf in Asia that dates back to 1995, when they assumed title sponsorship of the Asian PGA Tour, a position they maintained for four years. Since the inception of the Asian PGA Tour, the Omega PGA Championship acted as the concluding leg on the circuit. Four times the event was staged at the Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club before moving to Shenzhen's Mission Hills last year. Now the Open will replace the PGA Championship as the season-ending showcase. With a cheque for US$80,750 awaiting this week's champion, the Open will serve to determine the winner of the 2000 Davidoff Tour Order of Merit, an accolade which brings with it a host of other rewards. For good measure, the first Hong Kong Open champion of the new millennium will also take home an 18-K gold Omega Speedmaster watch worth more than HK$100,000. 'This is a wonderful new sponsorship initiative for Omega to undertake,' said Kevin Rollenhagen, vice-president of Omega - China and Hong Kong. 'The Hong Kong Open is one of Asia's oldest, most established professional golf championships, and we are extremely proud to be title sponsoring it for the first time. Omega is known the world over for quality watches, so we are delighted to support a tournament that boasts so much respect and stature in the international golfing community. 'Golf is one of Asia's most popular sports, and Omega's five-year sponsorship of the game represents our commitment to enhancing the lifestyle of people throughout the region.' Mr Rollenhagen's sentiments were echoed by Chief Executive Tung Chee- hwa. He said: 'In the past few years, golf has become more and more popular in Hong Kong. The rapid development of affordable practice facilities has brought the game within reach of an increasingly wider range of local people. 'This tournament will provide an excellent opportunity for the people of Hong Kong to learn from and appreciate the skills of professional players, and will encourage our own home- grown talent to persevere in trying to excel in this challenging sport.' Although there are six players still with a mathematical chance of emerging triumphant in the Order of Merit race, the enthralling bid for supremacy is likely to come down to a tense battle between Taiwan's Yeh Wei-tze, Indian Jyoti Randhawa and England's Simon Dyson, a former Walker Cup stalwart. The trio have been at the forefront throughout the year, with Yeh winning the Malaysian Open in February and Dyson, who last month underlined his talent by capturing his European Tour card for 2001, securing the Macau Open and the Volvo China Open. Randhawa, meanwhile, won the Indian Open in March and last week's Singapore Open. Among those standing in their way of adding the Hong Kong Open crown to their collection of titles are two former Hong Kong Open champions, Ian Woosnam of Wales and Sweden's Patrik Sjoland, who held off the challenge of Woosnam to win the title 12 months ago in Hong Kong. Adding spice will be the appearance of two other leading members of the European Tour, Scotland's Paul Lawrie, last year's British Open champion, and popular Italian Costantino Rocca. 'It promises to be another great Open,' said Hugh Staunton, captain of the Hong Kong Golf Club. 'Last year, we had more than 10,000 spectators on the final day. I'm sure the crowds will once again flock to the Hong Kong Golf Club this year.' Ramlan Harun, executive director of the Asian PGA, said: 'We have enjoyed our most successful season to date, and there's no doubt that the Omega Hong Kong Open will be the icing on the cake for us. 'Our thanks go to the HKGA for allowing the Hong Kong Open to become a full event on our circuit. It's a great act of recognition for the Davidoff Tour to have the Hong Kong Open on schedule, and we will work hard to ensure the event remains as one of Asia's most recognisable tournaments.'