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It's last chance saloon for many players this week on a number of fronts: It's the final chance for players to retain their cards by finishing inside the top 115 if they're not already exempt (although top 118 should suffice in reality); it's also the final chance for players hoping to book themselves a ticket to Dubai next week by finishing inside the top 60. On top of that, there's also the lure to some of getting closer to the OWGR top 50 over the final few events of the calendar year and the big-tournament entries that such a lofty rating brings. Lots going on!
The course at Fanling is very short by today's standards at 6,700 and a par 70 - however this is far from a complete pushover. Landing areas are tight and the fairways tree-lined with a number of holes requiring a controlled draw or fade to navigate the numerous doglegs. Given the nature of the course, players who had a good week at Valderrama often excel here, however the course is by no means as tough and unforgiving - plus it's on Bermuda rather than Bent grass greens, albeit at a similar kind of pace.
The winner here will be an accurate sort who can handle the Bermuda greens. Hitting greens doesn't tend to be too much of a problem here for the top players - it's more likely that the tee shot and putting will be the key to victory. Course history is important too - the same players tend to pop up year after year on this track, plus a top 5 or better on Bermuda in recent times will also be of benefit.
The betting market is dominated by Rory McIlroy who was a recent winner in Shanghai and boasts form of 2/2/6 in this event over his last 3 attempts. 5/1 with Paddy Power is the best you'll get on Rory at the time of writing - a price which is plenty short enough given Rory's strike rate, although it's fair to say that he could easily win here on a track that he clearly reacts on. English World Cup duo Justin Rose and Ian Poulter are McIlroy's closest competitors on paper - after a splendid Sunday performance in China it's not surprising to see them at 12/1 and 14/1 respectively.
With so much at stake, for so many players, I suspect the winner might come from a little further down the field as some of the big boys hold a little back for next week - my 10 points are being allocated as follows:
There are a number of reasons why I think that Paddy Harrington is about to secure his first European Tour win since 2008 - so hear me out!
Firstly, motivation: At 67th in the Race To Dubai, Harrington MUST perform this week if he's to play in the megabucks season finale next week. Qualifying for Dubai is also a must if he's going to stand any chance of securing his OWGR position (currently 81st) ahead of next season's WGC events. He needs to be in the top 64 ahead of the WGC Match Play and Top 50 ahead of Doral - a strong performance this week and next will certainly move him towards this kind of level.
Secondly, history: As a previous winner of this event (2003) and runner up the year after, Harrington can clearly play the course - form of 1-2 on his only 2 attempts on this course simply cannot be ignored.
Thirdly, form: Despite admitting that his swing changes are still 'work in progress', the impact on recent results has been marked as he's notched 2 top 10s in his last 4 European Tour starts - including 3rd in Johor on his last start - as well as 9th place in Shanghai behind Rory McIlroy.
For me, the rejuvenation of a World-class player is almost complete and this week could be another huge step towards his return to the big time. His love of grainy Bermuda greens is well documented and I'm sure he'll put himself in the mix this week. Also available at 20/1 and 6 places each way with Ladbrokes - click here for a £50 free bet. RESULT: T51
The early 40/1 about Jimenez to notch his victory at Fanling in 8 attempts was gobbled up very quickly on Monday, however 30/1 still represents good value for a player who, like Harrington, reacts positively on these types of surface. At 11th on the Race to Dubai, the Mechanic can look forward to a lucrative week in Dubai regardless of the result here, however with millions in the bank I suspect that he'll be more interested in contributing positively towards his Ryder Cup points tally with a victory here as he attempts to gain an automatic spot on Jose Maria Olazabel's team for next autumn's event.
With 21 wins worldwide, Jimenez is a classy player who will be keen to break his duck in 2011 after such a strong 2010. He would have done so at Valderrama last month had he not run into a resurgent Sergio Garcia and, after a couple of weeks' break, I'm expecting the Spaniard to come back strong this week on a course that he loves and suits him down to the ground. Miguel seems to step up his performances when Ryder Cup qualification is on the table and don't be surprised to see him secure his hat-trick of Hong Kong Open titles this week. Also available at 25/1 and 6 places each way with Ladbrokes - click here for a £50 free bet. RESULT: T11
In terms of a form horse, the man from Weybridge is close to top of the list and is always a player I look out for when results are going his way. When he's hot then he demands to be backed - last season he finished in the top-6 four times in a five event spell, resulting in a victory in Portugal and playoff defeat in Spain. He arrives in Hong Kong on the back of an 8th place finish in Singapore and 3rd in Johor - his first round 62 at the short Tanjong course in Singapore bodes very well for this event and I'm backing him to secure at least another top 5 here at a cracking price.
At 54th in the Race to Dubai, Morrison should be just about safe provided he secures a reasonable cheque this week, however he won't want to rest on his laurels and will no doubt give this event his full attention. As one of the shortest hitters on the European Tour (190th on Tour), the course at Fanling creates a level playing field for players like Morrison and allows his short game strength and excellent putting to come to the fore. I'm very excited about Morrison's prospects here this week. Also available at 40/1 and 6 places each way with Ladbrokes - click here for a £50 free bet. RESULT: M/C
Pagunsan secured a massive payday in Singapore when losing in a playoff to Gonzo Castano - he had a six-footer to win the tournament on the first playoff hole - and a return to Bermuda greens on a course where he's finished runner-up before (2007) is quite enough to get me interested here at a 3-figure price. The 33 year old from the Philippines normally plies his trade on the Asian Tour where he was a winner back in 2007, however he often plays in these co-sanctioned events and is clearly comfortable playing at this higher level.
The defeat in Singapore will have taught him a lot and he'll be stronger for that experience - I won't be at all surprised to see him back in the mix this week as he looks to strengthen his lead at the top of the Asian Tour Order Of Merit.Also available at 80/1 and 6 places each way with Ladbrokes - click here for a £50 free bet. RESULT: 10th
Odds and bookmaker offers correct 18:30GMT 29.11.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.