The European Tour heads to Fanling this week for the UBS Hong Kong Open. Rory McIlroy defends the title and a host of star names are on the start-list.

Together with the South African Open, also taking place this week, this is the final European Tour event before the season ending DP World Championship in Dubai. That means it’s the last chance for players to make the crucial top-60 who qualify for that lucrative competition.

Peter Lawrie currently sits in 60th place but he’s just €15,000 clear of David Howell. Brett Rumford and Anthony Wall are also nipping at the Irishman’s heels and all four men will tee it up this week.

It’s also a critical week for those looking to retain playing privileges for 2013. Tjaart Van der Valt, Richard Bland, Rhys Davies and Bradley Dredge all currently sit outside the top 115 and they’ll be desperate for a good finish this week to move up the standings.

This will be the 54th edition of the Hong Kong Open and it’s been part of the European Tour schedule since 2002. Since the tournament was first contested in 1959 there have been a number of notable winners including Peter Thomson, Greg Norman, Tom Watson and, more recently, Colin Montgomerie and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Last season Rory McIlroy took the title. The young Northern Irishman holed a bunker shot for a birdie on the 72nd hole to finish two clear of Gregory Havret. The victory gave McIlroy a chance of catching Luke Donald in the 2011 Race to Dubai. He didn’t manage it, but this year he already has the race wrapped up.

The Hong Kong Golf Club was founded in 1889. The club has been host to this tournament since 1959 – one of the few professional events to have remained at the same venue for such a long period of time.

Venue: Hong Kong Golf Club, Fanling, Hong Kong
Date: Nov 15-18
Course stats: par 70, 6,734 yards
Purse: €1,576,000
Defending Champion: Rory McIlroy (-12)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 15 – Sky Sports 2 from 5am
Friday 16 – Sky Sports 2 from 5am
Saturday 17 – Sky Sports 2 from 5am
Sunday 18 – Sky Sports 2 from 5am

Player Watch:
Rory McIlroy will start as red-hot favourite. But who else might contend?

Paul Casey – The Englishman endured a miserable summer, struggling to recover after a serious shoulder injury last Christmas. But his last three starts have been: tied 5th, tied 6th and tied 10th. He looks to be coming back onto his game and this could be the week he makes a return to the winner’s circle.

Marcus Fraser – The Australian was tied 11th in this event last year. He’s currently second on the Asian Tour Order of Merit and 28th on the Race to Dubai. He played solidly if unspectacularly last week in Singapore but this layout should suit his game. He’s not a long hitter but he’s accurate and he’s an outstanding putter – currently second on tour in putts per round.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat – The young Thai player was tied 7th here last year. He’s enjoyed a good season on the Asian Tour and is another excellent putter. He made the cut last week in Singapore and will look to build on that here.

Key hole: 18th. At 410 yards, it might not look overly imposing on the card but, with water, trees, heavy bunkering plus a famously elusive green, par here is an excellent score.

Skills required: Course management. This is a layout that demands accuracy and a strategic approach. It’s an old-school track where the ability to hit the long-ball is not a prerequisite. It’s a course that requires good shot-making and a tidy short game.