New champion Grégory Bourdy ended up soaked in champagne, but organisers of last week’s UBS Hong Kong Open also had plenty of reasons to celebrate.
The best field in the tournament’s history, four days of thrilling golf, the first ever French winner and intriguing subplots involving the European Tour’s Race To Dubai and Asian Tour’s Order of Merit – it was a week to savour.
Fans lucky enough to be at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling saw an impeccable display from the ice-cool Bourdy, who expertly negotiated the tight par-70 layout with rounds of 64, 67, 63 and 67 for a winning total of 19-under-par 261.
He was especially impressive on the final day when brilliant Northern Irish youngster Rory McIlroy, backed by a huge following, applied some serious pressure on the back nine.
So assured was Bourdy that, when he calmly parred the final hole, his winning two-shot margin marked the first time since 2002 that the champion had won by more than a single stroke.
“We didn’t get the heart-stopping finish that UBS Hong Kong Open fans have grown used to, but it was still a wonderful finale,” said Martin Capstick, managing director of event promoters Parallel Media Group.
“It is a long time since a player has strung together four absolutely immaculate rounds like that at Fanling. Bourdy hardly made a mistake all week and he was a truly deserving winner.”
While Bourdy’s fellow French players and supporters ran on to the green to spray him in champagne, Fanling was also acclaiming its people’s champion in McIlroy.
The Northern Irish youngster – now runner-up two years in a row – lit up the tournament with some incredible shot-making and was threatening to pull off an amazing comeback until a momentum-stopping bogey at the 17th ended his charge.
“With his displays the past two years, the Hong Kong fans have taken McIlroy to their hearts and he has said many times that he adores coming here – he likes the city and he loves the course,” said Capstick.
“He is a charismatic player and has a great rapport with the fans. We are obviously hopeful he will return because it is clearly a tournament he enjoys very much.”
McIlroy at least had the consolation of overtaking Lee Westwood at the top of the Race To Dubai standings, his season earnings of €2,538,449 giving him a lead of €128,173 over his English rival.
The Race To Dubai – in which only the top 60 qualified for this week’s season-ending Dubai World Championship – spiced up the final day at Fanling with players scrambling to book their place.
Bourdy’s victory moved him up to 47 and secured his spot, but Dutchman Robert-Jan Derksen, who needed to finish first or second, ended up joint third and just missed out.
Liang Wenchong’s 11th place in the UBS Hong Kong Open moved the Chinese star from 60 to 57 and confirmed his trip to the Middle East but 11th was not quite good enough for Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke, who found himself marooned at 61 on the money list.
“The Race To Dubai certainly gave the UBS Hong Kong Open an added dimension as even those golfers well down the field still had something to play for,” said Capstick.
“It turned the global spotlight on Hong Kong even more than usual and that can only be good for the tournament.”
A significant day for the Asian Tour as well saw Thai icon Thongchai Jaidee clinch an unprecedented third Order of Merit crown ahead of Liang.
“It was another hugely successful UBS Hong Kong Open and our sincere thanks go to the sponsors, the Hong Kong Golf Club, the Hong Kong Golf Association and all the officials and volunteers who helped make it happen,” said Capstick.
“We also offer our sincere gratitude to the fans, who again turned up in fantastic numbers and, as always, behaved impeccably.
“The challenge, as ever, is to improve the event for next year. The work has already started.”