U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell provides the main story line in this week’s $2.5 million UBS Hong Kong Open, but the sub-plots are just as intriguing.
McDowell is in Hong Kong in the penultimate stage in his bid to top Europe’s Order of Merit. About €368,000 stands between the Northern Irishman and Germany’s Martin Kaymer at the top of the European standings.
The good news for McDowell is Kaymer is not in the field. The bad news is that victory will not take McDowell above Kaymer in the standings. However, the first place check of €301,446 would add much spice to next week’s Dubai World Championship, the European Tour’s season finale.
Graeme McDowell: A win would put him on course to unseat Martin Kaymer at the top of the European pecking order.
Rory McIlroy: With two runner-up spots in Hong Kong the last two years, he’s the man to beat this week.
Soren Hansen: Holds the final spot into next week’s Dubai World Championship and needs to play well to maintain his position.
John Daly: He gets a sponsor’s invite into the field. Can he do in Asia what he hasn’t done so far in the U.S. this year and play well?
Anders Hansen: The Dane is a man in form after finishing second in Singapore last week.
Compatriot Rory McIlroy certainly feels McDowell, who finished third last week in Singapore, can beat Kaymer down the home stretch. “Graeme has been playing great, Martin has as well, but I think Graeme has got the edge a little bit,” McIlroy said. “He is finishing strong and hopefully he can go and do it.”
McIlroy is one of the sub-plots this week. The 21-year-old has not won on the European Tour this season. His only victory of the year came on the PGA Tour, when he won the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow with a stunning final-round 62.
Not only has the Northern Irish player not won in Europe this season, but victory in last year’s Dubai Desert Classic is his only European Tour win.
“If you asked me this time last year where I would want to be now, I would have said I would like to have had a couple more wins,” McIlroy said. “I felt I have played good enough to have more wins, but that is the way golf goes sometimes.”
McIlroy will get no better opportunity to remedy the situation than in Hong Kong. He has finished runner-up here the last two years.
“I know the golf course well, and I feel I’ve got a good idea of what I need to do this week to try and get that win here,” he said.
This week also marks the last chance for players to get inside the top 60 on the European money list to gain entry into the lucrative Dubai World Championship. Denmark’s Soren Hansen currently holds down the final spot with €522,783 in earnings.
Chasing Hansen’s coveted position are players of the caliber of former Irish Open champion Shane Lowry (62), England’s Richard Finch (63), Welshman Bradley Dredge (64) and 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie (71).
Needless to say, Hansen will spend just as much time as McDowell keeping one eye on the European money list this week.