Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal starts the defence of his Omega Hong Kong Open title at the Hong Kong Golf Club tomorrow hoping that the memories of last year will inspire him to success.
The two-time US Masters champion is not playing as well as he was this time last year. He started the season impressively and won the Buick Invitational on the US PGA Tour, which came shortly after his victory in Hong Kong, but
he has yet to rediscover his winning touch.
Last year he finished second in Taiwan the week before Hong Kong but this season he finished well down the leader board last week.
"I hope it is going to be a different story compared with last week, and I hope this week will be the same story as last year," said Olazabal.
"The second half of the season has been off, the long game has been off. I really haven't been able to pinpoint what the problem is. I have seen Butch Harmon a few times. It seems to be okay on the driving range but when I get on the golf course the results are not there."
It was a focused Olazabal, working extremely hard on his golf swing, that triumphed last year. Forever trying to overcome his weakness, his driving, he played beautifully from tee to green and found his touch with the putter when it mattered.
The Spaniard birdied the final three holes to take the title in 2001 and will be forever remembered for nearly holing his second shot with a five iron on the 18th. It was the 19th victory on the European Tour for the six-time Ryder Cup player.
"I did not putt very well last week so I need to start holing some putts," added the Spaniard, who has been paired with India's Arjun Atwal and Denmark's Anders Hansen in the first two rounds.
While it has only been a year since Olazabal last won in Hong Kong it has been 12 years since England's Nick Faldo tasted victory here. He won the Johnnie Walker Classic at the Hong Kong Golf Club in 1990, which was the last competitive performance by the 45-year-old in the SAR.
"I didn't realise that it has been 12 years. It is always a bit of a worry when 12 years goes by. I remember I shot 62 on the third day, that was really great. Those were the days when I could hit it, hit it again and it would be in the hole," said Faldo.
The six-time Major winner has not won since the 1997 Nissan Open in the United States although he has shown glimpses of his best over the past years, including finishing third in the Caltex Singapore Masters at the start of this year.
"I played the UBS Warburg Cup just over a week ago. I was playing okay there but now it is back to strokeplay. The last two events I played in were matchplay as I also played in the World Matchplay," added Faldo.
The Omega Hong Kong Open is being joint-sanctioned by the Asian PGA-run Davidoff Tour and the European Tour for the second year in a row. It's the penultimate event on this year's Davidoff Tour and the second leg of Europe's 2002/2003 season.
The US$700,000 tournament will play a crucial role in determining who wins this year's Davidoff Tour Order of Merit title. A sparkling final round of eight-under-par 64 earned India's Jyoti Randhawa second place at the BMW Asian Open last Sunday and lifted him into first place on the Davidoff Tour Order of Merit.
The Indian, who returned to action recently after breaking a collarbone in a motorbike mishap, picked up a handsome cheque of US$166,660 and increased his earnings for the season to US$246,667, just US$11,000 ahead of Thongchai
Jaidee of Thailand.
"I've been thinking about these last few tournaments as I was hoping to catch up in the Order of Merit. So far, it's been looking good," said Randhawa.
Randhawa's compatriot, Atwal is third on the Order of Merit with US$204,374, and like all the Merit list contenders will be looking for a strong showing ahead of next week's season ending Volvo Masters of Asia in Kuala Lumpur.
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