Mcilroy to Celebrate in Style
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6pts win Rory McIlroy at 11/4 (General).
0.75pt e.w. Gregory Bourdy to lead after the first round at 50/1 (BetVictor 1/4 1,2,3,4,5).
0.75pt e.w. Simon Khan to lead after the first round at 150/1 (Betfred 1/4 1,2,3,4,5).
It's a sign of the times that Rory McIlroy headlines the field for a European Tour event staged in Asia, having already locked up the Race To Dubai - what was once known as the European Tour Order Of Merit - despite having yet to win outside of the USA in 2013.
His triumph - secured when Matteo Manassero outlasted Louis Oosthuizen in Singapore - reflects the changing face of the European Tour and, while his achievement in following on from Luke Donald to win the R2D and PGA Tour Money List is noteworthy, it's one which will be repeated many times in the future.
For now, we're left with something of an anti-climactic end to the season. Whereas the PGA Tour have a system which guarantees a final showdown, from here on it's a victory parade for McIlroy, starting with the defence of his UBS Hong Kong Open title.
And it's a defence he should be expected to complete successfully.
After missing the cut on his 2007 debut at Hong Kong GC in Fanling, McIlroy twice finished second and once sixth before taking the title by two shots last year. Across those four renewals, his scoring average is just a shade over 66.
It comes as no surprise, then, that McIlroy considers the venue to be one of his favourites across the world. He told the European Tour's official website: "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 visualise 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."
Already, the temptation to oppose McIlroy is slim to none. It's simply a question as to what you make of the price and I think it is absolutely fair.
To justify why I think that, let's revisit the facts.
Since the Open Championship, McIlroy has played eight strokeplay events, all of which have been against stronger fields than this, and he's won three of them. Indeed, only twice has he been outside the top five.
Taking 2012 as a whole, he's played in 21 strokeplay events and has won four of them. Thus, if you'd have backed him to level stakes in all 21, you would be comfortably ahead - even had you taken 4/1 on each occasion, you'd be just one point down.
Of course, we can't have 4/1 this week. Instead, we're asked to take 11/4. But ask yourself this: what price would Tiger Woods have been in his pomp, on a course he calls one of his favourites, against a sub-standard field? Considerably shorter is the answer.
And while it's right to be cautious about drawing comparisons, the level of confidence I have in backing McIlroy at present isn't far from what it was when Woods was beating up fields as he liked.
Remember, McIlroy also happens to have the best record of anyone in Asia. He's won two of his last six starts on the continent, and has placed in each of the other four.
McIlroy is a class apart from this lot and at 11/4 should be backed with supreme confidence.
While I fully expected McIlroy to win the event, he's far less likely to fire the best opening round and instead I'm going to back Gregory Bourdy at 50/1.
At 76th in the Race To Dubai standings, Bourdy needs a good week if he's to make it to the season-ending World Tour Championship, and this is a perfect venue for him to do just that.
The fiery Frenchman won the event in 2009 and has twice finished 11th, advertising that this course is one he enjoys playing. In the 22 professional rounds he's played here, Bourdy has shot 63 once, 64 once, 65 twice and 66 three times, further evidence of the streaky scoring to which regular viewers have grown accustomed.
Such scoring was on display when Bourdy opened with a round of 63 to lead the Omega European Masters after round one earlier this season, and when he shared the lead with Jeev Milkha Singh after round one of the Irish Open.
That's twice we'd have earned a big payout had we followed him in the first round and in six appearances here he's hit the frame twice, so in a weak field he's well worth a punt at the odds.
Finally, I'm going to give Simon Khan a chance in the same market.
Khan's finest hour came on the tree-lined West Course at Wentworth two years ago, when he became the first sponsors invite to win the BMW PGA Championship.
Since then, things haven't gone his way, and at 115th on the Race To Dubai his struggles are clear. However, he's started to add consistency of late and would've shared the first round lead in Singapore last week had he made birdie instead of bogey on the par-five 18th.
Khan placed twice after the first round last year and twice in 2010 too, notably when a 63 was just a shot short of the required number in South Africa. He was also sixth after round one here in 2006, and closed with a round of 64 three years later.
At his best on venues where the premium is on accuracy and with plenty to play for, I rate his chances of getting off to a perfect start much better than the 150/1 offered by Betfred.