Hong Kong - Justin Rose will hope a troublesome back injury doesn't put
paid to his Hong Kong Open title defence as the new European Tour season gets
underway on Thursday.
The Olympic champion was forced to pull out after the first
round of last week's Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, but he made the trip
to Hong Kong regardless.
Rose isn't the only top player with fitness concerns at the
opening event of the 2017 European Tour season, which also rounds off the Asian
Tour's 2016 schedule.
Masters champion Danny Willett is coming off a two-week
break to recover from a bad back while Ian Poulter, the 2010 champion, returned
from five months out in October.
England's Willett, 29, skipped the World Cup in Melbourne
and the British Masters to rest his back, but he admitted he was still not
"I made a decision to pull out of the World Cup a
couple of weeks ago, mainly because we knew this was the start of the 2017
season, and it's a place I wanted to come back to and hopefully put a good show
in," he said.
Willett, who is looking to recapture his Augusta form, said
his back recovery was a "work in progress" and pointed to the injury
woes of his compatriots Rose and Poulter.
"I don't think there are many guys who could say they
are 100 percent all the time, purely because of how much travel we do, sleeping
in different beds and trying to play a sport that doesn't quite fit with the
natural movement in the body," he said.
Poulter, 40, made a last-minute dash to Hong Kong from his
home in Florida last year when he realised his European Tour membership was
about to lapse.
He has had a less frenetic build-up to this year's event –
but said his long lay-off had left him short of tournament practice.
"I've felt over the last six weeks I've played some
good golf, there's a little bit of rust there having had five-and-a-half months
off, not holing putts I would normally convert," he said.
"I think that's down to lack of tournament play."
One leading player who is injury-free is the big-hitting
American Patrick Reed, 26, who tied for third last year at the venerable
Reed said the USA's Ryder Cup victory in October would add
extra spice to exchanges with his European rivals when they tee off on
"The US side is a little more vocal this year!" he
said. "It was in desperate need for the US to win this past year, it had
been so one-sided, we needed to get that spark back."
Australia's Scott Hend is expected to seal the Asian Tour's
order of merit title, while Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez returns seeking a
fifth victory in Hong Kong.