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Colin Montgomerie top draw in Hong Kong

Colin Montgomerie headlines the UBS Hong Kong Open starting on Thursday looking to join the list of famous winners in one of Asia 's most prestigious championships.

The big Scot, ranked 17th in the world, is the top draw at the venerable Hong Kong Golf Club and arrived for the US$1.2 million event brimming with confidence after notching a record eighth European Tour Order of Merit title last month.

The man known better as Monty will face a strong field including the likes of Ryder Cup stars Thomas Bjorn, Paul Casey and title holder Miguel Angel Jimenez, as well as Asian Tour stalwarts Thongchai Jaidee, Thaworn Wiratchant, both from Thailand, China's Zhang Lian-wei and India's Jyoti Randhawa.

UBS, one of the world's leading financial firms, are title sponsoring the Hong Kong Open, jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour, for the first time this year following an agreement which will take the championship to its 50th anniversary in 2008.

"It is a good Roll of Honour here and it would be nice to win. This was my first international event when I was an amateur, in 1984, when I played in the Eisenhowever Trophy for Great Britain and Ireland ," said Montgomerie.

"It would be lovely to win here. It would give me more Ryder Cup points and get me almost well on the way to the team," said the 42-year-old Montgomerie, who received the MBE (Member of the British Empire ) from the Prince of Wales last week.

The Scot returned to the summit in Europe in the recent 2005 season following a magical season where he notched one victory and 12 top-10s, including a runner-up outing at the British Open behind Tiger Woods. He had started the year in a lowly 81st place in the world ranking.

A win in Hong Kong could well be the icing on the cake as he attempts to emulate the likes of Greg Norman, Bernhard Langer, Peter Thomson, Tom Watson, Jose Maria Olazabal and Asian legends Lu Liang-huan and Hsieh Min-nan in savouring victory in Hong Kong's longest running sporting event.

With the UBS Hong Kong Open being the third leg of Europe 's 2006 season and the penultimate event on the Asian Tour, Montgomerie will be battling for a ninth merit crown and believes that he still has plenty to offer in the game.

"If I honestly thought that my best golf was behind me, then I would stop and wouldn't be here. I've got to think and do think that my best golf is ahead of me and this year, I had my best performance in the (British) Open after 17 years as a professional. The standard behind me is improving all the time as well so that is great for me because it shows I am kicking on too and doing something right too," said Montgomerie.

Danish ace Bjorn will be looking to thwart Montgomerie and improve on his own impressive record in the Hong Kong showpiece, having finished joint fourth in last year's championship and tied for third in 2003.

"I like my chances very much at this year's UBS Hong Kong Open," he said. "I like the golf course, it has been good to me in the past. It is also no secret that I love Hong Kong as a city and this can translate to being comfortable on the course. I feel really positive coming back to Hong Kong this year," said Bjorn, an eight-time winner in Europe .

Asia will be looking to end their six-year winless run in the UBS Hong Kong Open and the man who brought the last win for the region, Kang Wook-soon of Korea , believes this could be the week.

"It was a long time ago that I won here in 1998. I'm not sure why it's been so long since an Asian has won in Hong Kong but maybe this is the time for an Asian winner this week," said Kang, a two-time Asian number one.

"The golf course is in its best condition that I've seen for many years. The fairways and greens are just perfect. With the narrow tree-lined fairways, the course does suit Asian players. It's not overly long. The standard of Asian golf has also risen over the past few years and there are many more good players in the field these days.

"The likes of Thaworn Wiratchant, Thongchai Jaidee and Choi Kyung-ju could well challenge here. I will try my best and I do like this golf course very much as it reminds me of some of our courses in Korea ," said Kang.

Chinese stalwart Zhang will attempt to fit in the final jigsaw in his quest to own all three of China 's main golf championships. The 40-year-old self-taught golfer has won the Volvo China Open and Macau Open previously and is only missing the Hong Kong Open trophy.

"The Hong Kong Open is the only event which I've not won in China . I've won the China Open and the Macau Open and I really want to win this one," said Zhang, who finished seventh in Shezhen last weekend.

"I like to play here and I am in reasonably good form after last week's finish. The course is in great shape and I'm looking forward to it," added Zhang.

Thaworn will defend his lead in the Asian Tour Order of Merit against second-placed Thongchai as he bids to dethrone his compatriot from the perch. But it could be an uphill task as Thaworn has found very little success previously in Hong Kong . "I think I've missed more cuts than made cuts here," said Thaworn, who has earned US$496,745 from four wins this season. "It's a course which doesn't really suit my game and hopefully, I can do something here."

November 30, 2005

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