Ernie Els of South Africa aims to kick-start a four-week Asian swing by winning the USD 1.3 million Hong Kong Open which starts on Thursday. The four-time Major champion will be making his first appearance in the 56th edition of the prestigious event at the Hong Kong Golf Club before heading to Macau, Malaysia and China.
Els forms part of the elite field at the Hong Kong Open alongside title holder Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, Asia's first Major champion Y.E. Yang of Korea and current Asian Tour number one David Lipsky of the United States.
Reigning Asian Tour Order of Merit winner Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, Anirban Lahiri of India, Prom Meesawat of Thailand, who finished second last year and Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium will also feature in the event sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.
Els, nicknamed the 'Big Easy', last played in Hong Kong 18 years ago and he is eager to stop Jimenez from winning the Hong Kong Open for a record fifth time.
"Miguel, I think his record speaks for itself, winning here four times. He obviously loves the layout and knows the greens. So I'd love to play with him over the weekend. I know he's going to be up there on the leaderboard," said Els.
"I'm actually quietly optimistic about my game and quite excited about my game. But I'd love to get it going here this week and see what Miguel and the rest of the crew does out there," added the South African, who turns 45 on Friday.
After taking a two-week break, India's rising star Lahiri is feeling refresh ahead of the Hong Kong Open. The four-time Asian Tour winner claimed his best result here after placing tied 12th last year and is upbeat of his chances this week.
"I'm starting to like the golf course and understanding how to play it. I needed that two-week break very badly. It was starting to get to me. I haven't been playing golf in the last 10 days and spent a lot of time with the family. I'm relaxed and hungry to do well," said the 27-year-old Lahiri.
Current Order of Merit leader Lipsky, who won the Omega European Masters in Switzerland last month, fancies his chances at the Fanling course.
"I really like this course. I'm excited for the week to start and I think it is one of the best courses we play on the Asian Tour. This is a place where I'm comfortable at and where I feel that I can do well," said the Korean-American.
The 26-year-old added, "When I won for the first time, it was hard to forget about it but now I'm getting used to it and trying to stick to my routine and take care of business. I'm trying to get back to the process of getting better in my golf game."
It will be a big week for Thai sensation Kiradech who is aiming to qualify for the WGC-HSBC Champions in China and CIMB Classic in Malaysia. As of October 20, the leading-10 players on the Order of Merit will qualify for the CIMB Classic while the leading four will earn places in the HSBC Champions.
(With inputs from the Asian Tour)