Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson headline a strong field this week at the co-sanctioned UBS Hong Kong Open, which returns to the Hong Kong Golf Club, Fanling.
The 6,669yd Par 70 venue is the shortest used on the Tour schedule and has been used for this event since it elevation to the official European Tour in 2001.
Many different agendas for the assembled field this week, with some players trying to force their way into the Top 60 in the Race to Dubai rankings and book their ticket to Dubai for the end of season big money finale. At the complete other end of the spectrum, the likes of Tour stalwart Mark Foster will have their last chance to sneak into the Top 110 to retain their Tour privileges.
This course, which definitely falls into the category of an old-school layout, has only two par 5s (3rd and 13th) and four short par 3s and is a narrow tree-lined track with small elevated greens. The key elements required this week will be accuracy – particularly from the tee with six dog-legs to contend with – and pinpoint iron play, to find tight pins on these small bermuda greens.
After another mixed week of weather on the Algarve last week, hot sunny conditions with only light breezes are thankfully forecast for the four days of the tournament.
Last year’s winner, the erratic huge-hitting Scott Hend, certainly bucked the trend of the type of player who has historically won around this short classic layout. With names like three-time winner Miguel Angel Jiminez, Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal on the winning trophy, you get the idea of the type of player to have on your side this week.
From a punting angle, I am happy to take on both market leaders – Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson – this week. Rose missed the cut in his only previous start here in 2011, while this is DJ’s first attempt at this tricky layout – which would come very low down in the type of track that would ideally suit his gung-ho style of play.
The layers have priced the two up really short in my opinion, so – with the added negative of lack of course and distance experience – I am happy to look further down the market for better value this week.
The nap is awarded to course and distance specialist Marcus Fraser, who showed a welcome return to form with a Tied 5th place finish at the recent British Masters at Woburn. The Aussie has plenty of solid course form around here, with four top 10 finishes since 2007 – including a 3rd place finish in 2012.
This short tight track sets up perfectly for his neat and tidy game and another positive is that his best finish this year of Tied 3rd at the very similar Delhi Golf Club – in the Hero Indian Open – means he represents solid each-way value.
Another fancy with plenty of previous course form is the evergreen Thongchai Jaidee, who won the Porsche European Open in Germany at the end of last month.
The likeable 45-year-old Tour veteran has been a model of consistency around this track in recent years, with seven consecutive top 20 finishes since 2006 – including a Tied 2nd in 2007 and a Tied 3rd in 2006.
He performed well in the recent Presidents Cup in Korea – winning one and a half points out of three – including a half in the singles against the not-so-likeable Bubba Watson!
I am happy to ignore his moderate effort in the Macau Open on the Asian Tour last week – as the previous weeks Presidents Cup gig would have taken plenty out of him. On a course that really suits this great strategist, expect a bold show this week.
Despite his lack of course experience, I have to include the hugely talented Matthew Fitzpatrick in my staking plan this week. The Sheffield youngster is a real star in the making and his recent maiden win at the British Masters at Woburn was both impressive and equally clinical.
He has been really consistent on his first full season on Tour, with six top five finishes already posted, and this course debutant arrives here brimming with confidence.
The layers have certainly not missed him in the market, but this venue would seem tailor made for this tee-to-green merchant – who has been a constant feature all season in the top 10 rankings for both Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation.
I would not be at all surprised if this very down-to-earth individual contends again this week.