UBS Hong Kong Open champion, Miguel Angel Jimenez, will return to defend his title in December as the SAR’s oldest professional sporting event enters an exciting new era.
Aiming to wrest away the trophy from the Spaniard will be one of the giants of the game, Colin Montgomerie, Europe’s 2004 Ryder Cup hero and winner of a staggering 41 tournaments worldwide.
The star duo are the first players to be confirmed for the 2005 UBS Hong Kong Open, for which this year UBS assumes title sponsorship in a four-year deal that brings an immediate 50 per cent increase in prize money.
Players will chase a total purse of US$1.2 million at the Hong Kong Golf Club on December 1-4 – with the figure rising to US$2.5 million by 2008.
Adding to the UBS Hong Kong Open’s prestige is the Government’s decision to award it the coveted “M” mark status – meaning it will receive official support as a sports event that has international significance and brings economic, social and cultural benefits to the SAR.
The cigar-chomping, pony-tailed Jimenez, who triumphed by one shot last year in a thrilling final-hole duel with 2003 champion Padraig Harrington and James Kingston, said he can hardly wait to return to Hong Kong.
“I’m looking forward very much to defending the UBS Hong Kong Open and, in particular, to returning to Asia where I have so many great memories from last year. I love coming to Hong Kong – the people are so friendly and they really enjoy their golf,” he said.
“I’m sure I speak for all the players when I say what an important part of the schedule this tournament is.
“UBS’s sponsorship of the Hong Kong Open is part of a wider progamme which supports men’s and ladies’ golf all over the world and, of course, for the players this is fantastic news! Playing for a good prize fund is great but most of all I look forward to playing in the first UBS Hong Kong Open.”
UBS Hong Kong branch manager, Kathryn Shih, predicted this year’s Open would be the best yet.
“All of us at UBS are very excited about the 2005 UBS Hong Kong Open and are delighted to announce that players of the calibre of Miguel Angel Jimenez and Colin Montgomerie will be coming to Fanling in December,” she said.
“The UBS Hong Kong Open is one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in Asia, with a superb history of champions and a famous venue. However, with players such as these participating, we expect that this year’s event will surpass past years in terms of entertainment for the fans and television viewers as well as our clients.
“With the growing popularity of golf throughout Asia and its effectiveness as a channel through which to reach decision makers, the UBS Hong Kong Open is an ideal platform from which to develop our business in Asia Pacific.
“We considered a number of sporting events before choosing the Hong Kong Open, but it is just a great match for us and we are looking forward to December 1 with great anticipation.”
UBS’s agreement takes the tournament through to its 50th staging in 2008.
Montgomerie, the seven-time European Tour Order of Merit winner, said he was looking forward to playing in Hong Kong.
“I am delighted to be taking part in this year’s UBS Hong Kong Open,” he said. “I am really pleased to be playing this tournament and always enjoy visiting Hong Kong – it’s such a wonderful city.
“I’ve played a few tournaments in Hong Kong during my career and I played at the Hong Kong Golf Club for the first time in 1984 as an amateur. I’m very much looking forward to playing there again.”
The tournament will once again be jointly sanctioned by the European Tour and Asian Tour and more star players will be announced in the coming weeks.
Keith Waters, the European Tour’s director of international policy, said: “The Hong Kong Open has long been regarded as one of Asia’s premier golf tournaments. The combination of a new blue-chip sponsor in UBS and the prestigious award of the Government’s ‘M’ mark will add considerably to the status and value of a truly outstanding event.”
Asian Tour chief executive, Louis Martin, added: “UBS’s involvement in one of Asia’s most treasured national Opens is fantastic as it will ensure the continued growth and lend further prestige to the event. Its involvement has already ensured a new milestone for the UBS Hong Kong Open which will offer a record prize purse this year.
“It is also great news that defending champion, Miguel Angel Jimenez, has confirmed his return while Colin Montgomerie is always adored whenever he plays in Asia. Both players will bring out the best from our Asian Tour stars, who I’m confident will challenge for the crown during the week.”
The 2005 UBS Hong Kong Open had to fulfil strict criteria to be awarded “M” mark status by the Government’s Major Sports Event Committee (MSEC).
The “M” mark scheme aims to pool resources from the sport, tourism and business sectors to stage more world-class sports events in Hong Kong. It means the tournament will receive Government support, including help with marketing, sponsorship, promotions and logistics.
The MSEC’s decision was welcomed by Hong Kong Golf Association chief executive Iain Valentine, who said: “The UBS Hong Kong Open is one of a select few world-class sports events held annually in Hong Kong and it has a history and heritage that other golf tournaments in the region cannot match.
“The awarding of ‘M’ mark status reflects the Open’s standing in Hong Kong and Asian sport and we look forward to continuing to work with the Government to make what is already an outstanding tournament even better.”
The Hong Kong Open was first staged in 1959 and has been held every year at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling.
Eight major champions – including Greg Norman, Bernhard Langer, Tom Watson and Jose Maria Olazabal – are included in an illustrious list of winners.
European players have won the past six editions. Korea’s Kang Wook Soon was the last Asian player to lift the trophy, in 1998.