HONG KONG, 5 Nov, 2016, (HK Golfer News Wire) - Long-hitting Hend is the frontrunner to become the first Aussie winner of the coveted Merit title following a season to remember which includes two victories.
A return to the Hong Kong Golf Club from December 8 to 11 will also spur him to chase for a second UBS Hong Kong Open victory following his triumph in 2014.
Thai stars, Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, are tipped to challenge Hend and the rest of a stellar field that includes title holder and Olympic Games gold medalist, Justin Rose, Masters Tournament winner, Danny Willett, and Ryder Cup stars, Patrick Reed and Rafa Cabrera Bello.
The UBS Hong Kong Open, jointly sanctioned by the European Tour and the Hong Kong Golf Association, is the season-ending tournament on the Asian Tour and Hend is eager to end his 2016 campaign on a high note.
“I'm looking forward to returning to the UBS Hong Kong Open. Going back to Fanling which I've won at previously will be lots of fun and I'm hoping to play my best golf there again to contend for another win.
“I always enjoy playing in Hong Kong as there is such a great buzz around the tournament while the city is always a great place to visit. My season has been memorable with two wins and an appearance at the Olympic Games but I feel I could have won one or two more tournaments if Lady Luck was on my side,” said Hend.
Hend has emerged as the most successful international golfer in the region with nine Asian Tour victories, including two wins in Thailand this year. He has produced six top-10s and has risen to 63rd on the Official World Golf Ranking.
The US-based Aussie has a US$300,000 plus lead in the race to become the new Asian Tour number one and he is keen to also break into the world’s top-50 before 2016 closes which will earn him a maiden trip to the Masters Tournament next spring.
“As the UBS Hong Kong Open is the final event on the Asian Tour, it would be fantastic for me to produce my best stuff there and seal the Order of Merit title for the first time in my career. It would really cap a great year for me," said Hend, who leads with earnings of US$996,592.
“I've been fortunate enough to win nine times in Asia. On the Order of Merit, I think I finished twice in second position and I finished fourth maybe two or three times. I'm from Australia and I'm very close to Asia, and being able to win the Order of Merit, it's just a goal of mine to achieve.
“I've never played at the Masters and I think it would be a golf course I would be able to play very well around. Obviously like a lot of people, I have seen it on TV every April. I would like to be there once and walk down the fairways.”
Kiradech's talent will be on full display as he bids to improve his record in Hong Kong, where he has produced only one top-10 from four visits to Fanling. The 27-year-old is also keen to sign off his season with a victory, having won twice last season.
“The UBS Hong Kong Open is one of the most prestigious tournaments in Asia and it is an event which I would dearly love to win. Some of the names on the trophy is truly impressive and it would be an honour if I could get my name on the trophy too,” said Kiradech, Asia’s number one in 2013.
“My season has been steady with many top-10s but I have not won yet. With the UBS Hong Kong Open being the final tournament on the Asian Tour’s 2016 season, I will fight hard to try and achieve a win against a very strong field.
“Fanling is a wonderful venue and creates a lot of atmosphere and excitement but it can also be quite a tricky golf course to play on. It is certainly a great tournament and place to end our season and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
Veteran star Thongchai, who has not finished lower than 19th position in Hong Kong since 2005, is ready to compete for the UBS Hong Kong Open title. Apart from finishing joint 13th last year, the former paratrooper has achieved six top-10 finishes in Fanling including a tied second outing in 2007. He also won the 100th Open de France earlier this season.
Entry to the first two rounds of this year's tournament on Thursday 8 and Friday 9 December will be free of charge. Those aged under 21 will be admitted free of charge for all four days of the tournament, as the organizers push to introduce the game to wider segments of the Hong Kong community in 2016.