More than any other ?Far East Swing? event, this is the one where the Europeans have previously emphasised their superiority. In the five years since this event has been co-sanctioned with the European Tour, all five winners have been European. The global contingent here must be equally respected though, with top-class PGA Tour stars MIKE WEIR, KJ Choi, Trevor Immelman and Daniel Chopra all making the trip.
The venue at Hong Kong GC is also very much the type that consistently produces top class winners. Of those last five winners, three started at 12/1 or less with similar predictable trends throughout the top-10. A series of dog-legs emphasise accuracy over distance, with the key being approach shots to the green. And as I?ve written many times before, ?second-shot? courses favour the best players.
On the basis of his overall 2007 form, Choi would be a very warm order in this company but has played the past fortnight as if he?s out on his feet after a long, competitive campaign. In contrast, his co-favourite Mike Weir rates a confident selection as he has waited until the autumn before coming to the boil. Former Masters champion Weir finished the season better than anyone. His last three events were as top International points scorer in the Presidents Cup, 10th place and finally a long overdue PGA Tour win. The only aspect of Weir?s game that has always been inferior to the elite has been his comparative lack of driving distance. As that particular attribute is almost irrelevant here, I can?t find an argument against him going very close.
Others prominent in the market make considerably less appeal. I can?t understand why anyone would want to back Retief Goosen on any course given his complete lack of form for over six months now, let alone a venue where he missed the cut last year. Equally this doesn?t look ideal for Robert Karlsson, nor Stuart Appleby who looks like he?s gearing up for next week?s start of the Australian triple crown. The brilliant Rory Mcllroy will doubtless have his supporters as he hunts down that first of many professional wins, but its hard to see such a feat occurring in his first event outside Europe.
Alternatively, few could muster a better record than MIGUEL-ANGEL JIMINEZ around this course. He?s broken 70 in nine of his twelve rounds at Hong Kong GC, enabling him to win in 2004 and finish 6th last year. The way he closed the regulation season in Europe suggests to me that he?s ready to add to an already fine record in the Far East. Jiminez made the top-20 on four of his last five starts, including top-10s at The Belfry and Valderrama in high-class fields.
GRAEME MCDOWELL also has some good form in the Far East and holds a stronger chance than most of transferring his fine end of season form to another continent. He played really well at Valderrama on his most recent start, challenging up until the final holes and at last producing a result that his form had suggested was imminent. In four of McDowell?s last six events, he?s ranked in the top-8 for the crucial greens in regulation stat. Having gone well last year in China, finishing 9th and 2nd on his two starts, McDowell must fancy his chances of a long overdue third career win.
Another talented young European I could see going well this week is FRANCESCO MOLINARI. He?s been playing consistently solid tee to green golf for the last couple of months just off the pace, recording good stats in the process. Molinari impressively hit four sub-70 rounds in this event last year for 8th place, following on from an even better top-10 behind Woods and co in Shanghai. He clearly likes playing in this part of the world, and is capable of making the small step up on recent efforts to contend here.
Best of the home contingent could be CHARLIE WI. Wi has just enjoyed the best season of his career, establishing himself as a consistent, middle-ranking performer on the PGA Tour. He was 5th on his penultimate start in the Ginn Sur Mer Classic, his best since finishing runner-up at the US Bank Championship in the summer. Any repetition of that level of form would have to be competitive here, back on a course he knows well from his Asian Tour days.