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Jimenez eyes Hong Kong repeat in weak field

AFP| Updated: Dec 04, 2013, 14:57 PM IST

Hon Kong: Miguel Angel Jimenez has a golden chance to break his own record as the oldest European Tour winner this week, headlining a Hong Kong Open field missing its usual star names as the tournament struggles for survival.

Chinese teenager Guan Tianlang, who turned heads at this year`s US Masters, will also hope to capitalise with a strong showing at the cornerstone Asian event, which remains without a title sponsor.

Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie are among the Open`s previous distinguished winners but this year Jimenez, who won for the third time in 2012 at a record age of 48 years and 318 days, is the only man from the world`s top 50 competing this year.

Italian Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari, Denmark`s Thorbjorn Olesen and India`s Gaganjeet Bhullar will also fancy their chances at the event, co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour.

Until last year the Hong Kong Open occupied an important end-of-season date on the golfing calendar as players scrambled for points in the race to finish top of the European money list.

But now it counts towards next year`s money list and clashes with two other events, while a lack of a title sponsor has hit the prize fund and appearance money, prompting worries over its future.

There are even concerns about its traditional home, with some lawmakers calling for flats to be built on the colonial-era Fanling course to ease a housing crisis.

Spanish veteran Jimenez, 49, who has 19 European Tour wins, said it would be sad if the event disappeared as he prepares to tee off on Thursday in the hunt for a fourth Hong Kong Open title.

"I came here for the first time in 2004 and won. I love the city and I especially like the golf course," he said.

"It`s an old-fashioned course and you have to have a very intelligent and precise game here. It`s in super shape this year -- the greens are firm and the fairways are immaculate."

The Spaniard said he hoped the star players would return to Hong Kong but admitted that golfers faced hard decisions about which tournaments to play and which to skip on a packed calendar.

Many top players have this week opted either for the $6.5 million NedBank Golf Challenge in South Africa or a Tiger Woods-hosted competition in California.

"It is very important for the tournament to have all the big names but it`s very tough when you have different tournaments in the same week," said Jimenez, who won by one stroke last year and also triumphed in 2004 and 2007.

European Tour deputy international policy director Ben Cowen told AFP everything was being done to save the event, but could not say for certain if a successor to UBS as sponsor would be found.

Cowen said that the Tour is reviewing the tournament`s dates in a bid to boost its lustre and stop it going the way of other events in the region.

This year, Asia has lost tournaments including the Avantha Masters, which was India`s only European-sanctioned event.

The flagship Singapore Open, once dubbed "Asia`s major", took a year`s break after being unable to find a title sponsor, and the inaugural OneAsia Championship was postponed after failing to attract enough star players.