Six golfers to watch at the Hong Kong Open
Apart from the favourites, keep an eye out for Li Haotong, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Wang Jeunghun, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Hung Chien-yao and Leon D’Souza
Peel off the first layer of big shot names headlining at this year's UBS Hong Kong Open and you will find a pool of golfing talent, not least of which comes from Asia.
Following a rather lacklustre performance by Japan's world number five Hideki Matsuyama at the Dunlop Phoenix last week, lesser known Asian golfers are ready to pounce for a rare spot in the limelight in Fanling this weekend.
Here are six Asian golfers to watch out for at the Open:
Li Haotong (China) – world ranking 57
The 22-year-old may have missed the Open cut in 2015, but Li’s career has skyrocketed ever since. The Hunan native stunned the world in July after shooting a seven-under 63 at the British Open – the 32nd ever recorded in a major championship. He also became the first mainland golfer to make the cut at the US Open in June.
There are few golfers sharing the weight of expectations of the 1.38 billion-strong country, but outstanding performances on the European circuit allows for Li to sit firmly at the helm of China's mission to crown its first world number one. He will be looking to open his new European Tour account with a bang in Hong Kong.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Thailand) – world ranking 60
Previously dubbed the ‘Asian John Daly’ for his rather hefty size, Thailand’s Kiradech has multiple European Tour wins under his belt and represented his country at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The 28-year-old is fresh off a tied second-place performance in Dubai last week – finishing ahead of superstars Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia – and a tied sixth-place finish in Turkey earlier in the month. Kiradech is not short of good form and will want to improve upon his highest Hong Kong Open finish: seventh in 2011.
Wang Jeung-hun (South Korea) – world ranking 102
The ‘Korean Sniper’, as he is known in Europe, is one of Asia’s most promising golfers to emerge in recent years. The 22-year-old was awarded the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year in 2016 after winning the Trophee Hassan II and Mauritius Open in the same year. He also earned the nickname ‘Nomad’ due to his busy Asian and European Tour schedules.
Since clinching the Qatar Masters at the top of 2017, Wang’s performances have teetered off in recent months, suggesting he still lacks the experience to make the next step up. This may be his opportunity to get back on the horse.
Gaganjeet Bhullar (India) – world ranking 167
Bhullar has eight Asian Tour titles to his name, the latest being the Macau Open in October. Despite his inability to transfer these performances to co-sanctioned European Tour events, Bhullar feels it is only a matter of time until the results flow and he fins his way on to the PGA Tour.
The 29-year-old is quite a way off of being his country’s top golfer – fellow Indian Anirban Lahiri is ranked 61st in the world – but Bhullar has the potential to go much further.
Hung Chien-yao (Taiwan) – world ranking 453
Hung, 27, was not a particularly familiar face from the Asian Tour until recently, where he secured three top-10 finishes from his last seven tournaments, including an impressive fourth place in Macau last month.
A glance at Hung’s world ranking only cements his label as a longshot to win the Open, but Tawian’s stand-out performer this year has nothing to lose this week.
Leon D'Souza (Hong Kong) – amateur
The Hong Kong teenager secured a spot at the Open after winning the Hong Kong Close Amateur Championship this year. The 18-year-old set a course record nine-under-par 61 on Hong Kong Golf Club’s New Course in the first round and knows the championship Composite Course better than anyone else in the field.
D'Souza has proven his talent on the local scene time and time again, but he must seize his opportunity on the big stage as he leads the way for his fellow untested Hong Kong teammates.