Aussies gunning for historic hat-trick at Hong Kong Open

Scott Hend says the Fanling course, where he won his first European Tour title in 2014, “just feels like you’re in Australia”. (AFP pic)

HONG KONG: Three Australian golfers are in the mix for the Hong Kong Open title on Sunday, buoyed by an almost-home advantage and the tournament’s recent history of catapulting journeymen from down under into global golf stardom.

“It just feels like you’re in Australia,” said Scott Hend of the historic par 70 Fanling course, where he won his first European Tour title in 2014.

“We’ve all discussed it…the way the greens are, the way some of the bunkers are, just feels very much similar to Australian conditions,” he told AFP after carding 69 to sit nine points off leader Aaron Rai going into the final day.

Fanling is “absolutely” a home away from home, said Perth-based Jason Scrivener, who tied for third at the Hong Kong Open in 2015.

“It’s very similar to the course I grew up playing. Tight and tree-lined and firm and fast. You don’t have to be too long, you can kind of plot your way around, so yeah, I love it.”

Scrivener and compatriot Jake Higginbottom are seven and nine shots off the top respectively, seeking to break up the all-English top three of Rai, Ryder-Cup star Tommy Fleetwood and Matt Fitzpatrick.

The previous two winners at Fanling have been Aussies, and another on Sunday would make for a historic hat-trick — no one country has won three in a row since the Open was added to the European Tour in 2001.

Adelaide-born Wade Ormsby clinched the title at the death in a thrilling final day in 2017, and in 2016 Sam Brazel — then ranked 480th in the world — came out on top.

Higginbottom, currently ranked 754, will need to cause an even bigger upset, although he has form — in 2012, aged just 19, he became the first amateur to win the BMW New Zealand Open since 1956.

Scrivener admitted it would be “tough” for any player to catch Rai, who smashed the course record with a blistering nine-under-par 61 on day two and has since extended his lead at the top.

But Hend, recalling his own 2014 victory, said he and his countrymen will have an extra advantage: “there’s a lot of expats here as well so there’s a lot of support for us.”