European Tour's Hong Kong Open still without a sponsor

(Reuters) - The Hong Kong Open has been forced to ask the government to help plug a financial hole after organisers failed to find a title sponsor for the $2.75 million (1.72 million pounds) event won last year by world number one Rory McIlroy.

On Friday, local media reported that the 54-year-old event, co-sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours, failed to find a replacement for UBS and for the second year running, would need government assistance to ensure the November 15-18 tournament went ahead.

"We will be approaching the Mega Events Fund (MEF) in the next two weeks for funding," Hong Kong Golf Association chief executive Iain Valentine was quoted as saying by Friday's South China Morning Post.

"We hope we will get financial backing from the government once again."

The paper said that the MEF had provided organisers with HK$8 million last year to help fund the 2011 tournament and help pay appearance money to attract top players.

McIlroy, who holed his bunker shot on the 72nd hole to seal victory last year, has not yet committed to defending his title.

"There is no guarantee Rory will turn up this year," Valentine warned.

"Of course, his (appearance fee) will have gone up now he has two majors in his bag. But we know he has a soft spot for Hong Kong and we hope he will return. It is pretty traditional for the defending champion to come back."

The paper said that Swiss watch company Omega had rejected the chance to sponsor the event.

"Our interests have moved on. We are looking at bigger events, especially in China," Omega president Stephen Urquhart told the paper.

The event has been part of a lucrative run of Asian tournaments at the end of each year that have attracted the best players in the world over recent seasons.

The BMW Masters and the HSBC Champions events in China scheduled for October boast $7 million prize funds and are followed by the $6 million Singapore Open.

However, the co-sanctioned Singapore Open is also looking for a new sponsor for next year after Barclays said they would end their backing following this year's event in November.

(Reporting by Patrick Johnston; Editing by John O'Brien)

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