This week I’m back at the Hong Kong Club in Fanling – the scene of my Hong Kong Open victory 12 months ago. I look back on the event fondly as it got my 2004 European Tour season off to the best possible start. In fact, a year earlier I’d also won the opening event of the 2003 season, taking the BMW Asian Open title. While this week isn’t the first tournament of the 2005 European Tour season – that was the Volvo China Open last weekend – it’s my opening event on the circuit and I hope I can begin as I have in the two previous campaigns: with a win.
Last year’s win in Hong Kong was a real nail-biting affair. I holed putts of around 12 and 20 feet – both for birdies – at the closing two holes to win what was my eighth European Tour title. I well remember that 20-footer at the last. When I walked up to the putt the line jumped out at me, six inches right of the hole, uphill right to left. If you are going to hole a putt, that is going to be your favourite. I felt good about it, hit a perfect putt, everything about it did just as I thought it would – and in it went.
‘My best ever chip’
While that was the winning putt, the key moment arrived earlier at the 16th hole when I was faced with a difficult chip, needing to get up and down to save par. It was the best chip I ever hit as a professional golfer. I had to chip from off sand, about 10 yards and had to land it no more than six inches over the bunker. If I chipped it past the bunker, it would have gone down to the front of the green. I had to land on the upslope of the bunker and nearly holed it as well.
At 6,749 yards, Hong Kong Golf Club isn’t long by Tour standards. Last week, for instance, the track at the Korea Golf Championship was over 7,400 yards. This is a different sort of test with accuracy and good course management the key factors on this par-70 course. You need to putt well to feature on the leaderboard.
The red jacket
It’s a well-known fact that the most coveted jacket in golf is the green one they give the winner at The Masters each year. Well, here the winner gets a coloured jacket, as well – a red one! I have a lot of good memories of the golf course and coming over here, there were a lot good thoughts. I can remember every hole and every shot that I hit last year.
It’s good to be back as the course obviously suits me. Also I've always believed that you should defend a title if you have the opportunity. Here’s hoping, I can make it a successful defense.
but not close enough. My defence of the Hong Kong Open title went right down to the wire. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite emulate the birdie-birdie finish that brought me a win a year ago and I had to settle for a share of second spot – one shot behind the winner Miguel Angel Jimenez.
An enjoyable week
Of course it was disappointing not to win – very much so. But I still enjoyed the week, not least the pre-tournament cocktail party, which was Irish-themed following my win last year. The party – held in the skyscraper IFC Tower – was lot of fun and they even got me up to do some Irish dancing!
It was down to business the following day and I got off to a decent start, shooting a five-under 65. That left me just one off the lead held by Adam Groom. It was a good five-under, I got up and down a few times and holed a few six-footers for par. And anytime you open up with a low score you are happy. You can always play yourself out of it on a Thursday if you’re not careful. You just want to be there or thereabouts, with another 54 holes to go. So it was a nice start just to keep the focus going.
The second day saw Miguel Angel Jimenez fire a 64 to put himself two shots into the lead – and four shots ahead of me – at the half-way point. My 68 didn’t feel particularly good immediately after I’d finished as a couple of birdie putts on 16 and 18 just failed to drop. If they’d gone in, it would have been a good round. Still, I was far from out of it and had all to play for over the weekend.
Hitting the front
While Friday ended in less than perfect fashion, it was a different story a day later. On the final green I managed to sink an uphill 20-footer for birdie, which put me into a share of the lead alongside Jimenez and James Kingston at 10-under-par.
I was very pleased when that last putt went in. The key thing was to make sure I made the last group and I think I might have been in the third last group if I hadn’t have holed that one for a 67.
There was a quality look about the leaderboard ahead of the final round. Miguel – the man in form – was up there while David Howell, Thomas Bjorn and Nick Faldo were others right in contention.
Of course, I wanted to get off to a fast start and birdies at the 2nd and 4th were just what was required. Unfortunately, though, I lost momentum with back-to-back bogies at the 6th and 7th. That put me back a little and I wasn’t helped when missing a short putt at the 13th after a birdie at the 12th. But birdies at the subsequent two holes gave me a chance and memories of a year ago in Hong Kong when I managed that strong finish sprang to mind. And while I picked up a shot at the 17th, so too did Miguel and James Kingston, who were leading. I ended up parring the last and was left to reflect on a few missed putts. I probably missed six very makeable putts in the round and that's what cost me. But I needed to finish second here to maintain my world ranking of sixth and so it was good that I managed that.
Anyway, it’s on to America now for my last event of the year – the Target World Challenge.