Justin Rose set for Hong Kong title defence

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 fully fit.

"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 Fanling course.

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 Thursday.

"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.