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The signs look good for Rory

Last updated: 13th November 2012

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Rory McIlroy after he won the Hong Kong Open last year

Rory McIlroy after he won the Hong Kong Open last year

Rory McIlroy says it without hesitation. The Hong Kong Golf Club is one of his top favourites anywhere and his winning bunker shot there last year stands out above all others.

That said, the 23-year-old World No 1 is hoping the good vibes associated with these feelings for the storied Fanling course are going to help him successfully defend this week's UBS Hong Kong Open title he had so coveted before he won it for the first time last year.

This after a series of close shaves - he finished second in 2008 and 2009 and sixth in 2010 - and an upstanding series of rounds over the past four years that will send him into Thursday's tee-off with an eye-popping scoring average of 66.1.

And that's not all.

That after a sluggish start in Singapore last week he was able to blaze back into third place with a sparkling 65 in a sizzling final round, closed off at the 18th with a spectacular monster putt for eagle, will further serve to boost his ego.

And because that finish also made it impossible now for him to be overtaken at the top of the European Tour's 2012 money race which in turn will make him only the second man after fellow Brit Luke Donald to top the Money List on both sides of the Atlantic in the same year, it will also have reduced the pressure on him as he leads the pack into the second last lap ahead of the Race to Dubai's big finale next week at the DP World Tour Championship at the Jumeirah Golf Estate.

It was no wonder he smiled easily and looked so relaxed this week when he told the media in Hong Kong: "I've always just really enjoyed the golf course and the city. I was involved in probably one of the best play-offs ever [with Lin Wen-tang] in 2008, then finally managed to win it last year.

"The bunker shot on the last was obviously a great way to finish it off, and when I look back on my career I'm sure that's one of the shots I'll always remember. I already had some great memories of Hong Kong, but that one topped the lot.

"Ever since I first played in 2007, the Hong Kong Open was a tournament I've always wanted to win, so to get my name on that trophy last year was a very special moment for me. I really love the layout there. The trees frame the holes really well, there's a lot of definition on the course and it makes it easy to visualize the shots I want to hit.

"I love tree-lined courses and Hong Kong is definitely one of my favourites anywhere in the world. When you've played well and won on a course in the past, you're always looking forward to going back and there will definitely be an added spring in my step this week, especially now that I've won The Race to Dubai."

Six fellow Major Champions - Ireland's Padraig Harrington, Paul Lawrie of Scotland, Spaniard José María Olazábal, Korean Y E Yang, American John Daly and New Zealand's Michael Campbell - will go up against McIlroy in Hong Kong this week, with Harrington, having recently rediscovered some of the lost magic that earned him two Open Championships and the US PGA title a few years back, perhaps being the most dangerous of the six.

The Irishman, like McIlroy, is also one of nearly a dozen men who will be playing this week with the warm feelings of a former winner, the others being former Ryder Cup captains Olazábal and Colin Montgomerie, Frenchman Grégory Bourdy, England's Simon Dyson, Asia's Lin Wen-tang and Spaniards Miguel Angel Jiménez and José Manuel Lara.

However, greater threats to the Northern Ireland young gun, more likely, are lanky American Matt Kuchar, making his Hong Kong Open debut in a rare appearance outside of the USA, and Englishman Paul Casey, who in the past month has dramatically shrugged away the cloak of invisiblity that had for too long this season shrouded his once promising career.

Casey has finished in the top 10 in each of his last three appearances - he tied for 10th in last week's Barclays Singapore Open, for sixth at the BMW Masters and for fifth at the ISPS Handa Perth International.

But then again, with so many exciting young guns clamouring for the spotlight on the European Tour stage right now, you can never ignore the possibility of someone like last week's teenaged Singapore play-off winner Matteo Manassero of Italy or English upstart Tom Lewis trumping the pack - even if it does include the king of aces McIlroy.



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