November 21, 2006 – Record crowds, a thrilling finish and a list of winners that extended beyond new champion José Manuel Lara – the 2006 UBS Hong Kong Open left everyone with a reason to smile.
More than 10,000 fans packed into the Hong Kong Golf Club at Fanling for Sunday’s final round, taking the total attendance for the four-day tournament to over 21,000.
Spectator stands and corporate marquees were full and thousands more lined the fairways to witness the dramatic afternoon duel in the sun between Spain’s Lara and charismatic Filipino rookie Juvic Pagunsan.
And for the fourth year in a row, the tournament went down to the very last putt, Lara holing a tap-in on the 18th for his first European Tour victory.
The Spaniard acknowledged the part played by fans. “I was trying to concentrate and imagine that I was alone out there, but there were so many people following us. Maybe only in a couple of tournaments in Europe do we get crowds like that.”
It was enough to leave organisers and sponsors delighted. “This was the 48th edition of the Hong Kong Open and, I think it’s fair to say, the best yet,” said Martin Capstick of event promoter Parallel Media Group.
“The tournament has gone to another level. In addition to the fantastic golf, the facilities offered to the public this year were better than ever and they responded by turning up in record numbers.
“The Public Village next to the 18th green, with its catering, sponsors’ stalls, viewing terrace and giant TV screen, was a hugely popular attraction and offered fans an alternative to following players around the course.
“The free shuttle buses to Fanling from Admiralty and Kowloon Tong were a new initiative this year and were well used, as were the free shuttle buses from Sheung Shui KCR station.
“Of course, it helps if the sporting action is top quality and, once again, the players did not disappoint. We saw some magical golf over the four days from some of the best players on the European and Asian Tours.”
The tournament had more than its share of success stories, starting with Lara, winning his first European Tour event after four runner-up spots and three third places.
“I’ve been close many times and not got the trophy. This is my time and it’s a great feeling,” said the Spaniard after collecting the trophy and a winner’s cheque for US$333,330.
Pagunsan – in his first year as a professional and virtually unknown at the start of the week – won the hearts of the galleries with his mega-watt smile and easy-going attitude.
Any pain he felt at missing out on the title was eased by the US$222,220 runner-up prize – easily the biggest payday of his fledgling career – and the Asian Tour’s Rookie of the Year award.
Indian star Jeev Milkha Singh was a happy man as well – his joint-third spot earned him US$103,333 and secured the Asian Tour’s UBS Order of Merit title with one tournament remaining.
And Chinese No.1 Liang Wenchong also took home a trophy – a 1 kg gold bar worth approximately US$20,000 (HK$155,482) courtesy of UBS after his final-round hole-in-one.
The 2006 tournament marked the second year of UBS’s multi-year title sponsorship agreement and Capstick agreed that the financial giant’s support had been pivotal.
“Since UBS came on board last year, prize money has increased from US800,000 to US$2 million, the field has become stronger and facilities for fans are better than ever.
“And when you take into account the tournament’s history and heritage, then it really is the jewel in the crown of Asian golf.”