CHA CHOENG SAO - THREE-TIME European Tour winner Kiradech Aphibarnrat and former champion Prayad Marksaeng are billed as favourites to lift the prestigious His Majesty King Bhumibol trophy at this week’s US$300,000 Thailand Open at the Thai Country Club.
In the tournament’s 45-year history, only three Thais have managed to win the title – Suthep Meesawat in 1991, Boonchu Ruangkit in 1992 and 2004 and Prayad four years ago.
With the absence of Thai ace Thongchai Jaidee, who preferred to skip this week due to health problems, expectations are high that Thai No 2 Kiradech will become the fourth Thai winner.
“There’s some pressure as everybody expects a lot from me. But I am also thankful to be regarded as one of the favourites here,” said Kiradech, who has in fact been far from impressive recently despite posting two top-10 finishes at the start of the year in the Middle East.
“To be honest I’m not in the best shape at the moment. I have been in a transitional phase both in terms of my fitness and swing, focusing on the long-term results. The effort may not be obvious this week but it should start showing results a year from now,” said the 27-year-old, who has missed three cuts in his last five tournaments.
Prayad, 51, is another strong contender this week with a history of success at the course, winning the Masters of Asia 10 years ago. The veteran celebrated his 10th Asian Tour title in January when he won the Singapore Open, and finished ninth, 11th and seventh in his last three Japan Tour events.
“Seemingly the course hasn’t changed at all in the last decade. There are not many difficult holes and it’s a short course. I expect the winning score to be 18-under,” said the Thai star.
“‘It comes down to putting. On any given day, if I make good putts, I can shoot low scores. My game is consistent compared to other young players. I will take it one day at a time – after all, it takes four days to win a golf tournament,” he said.
Australia’s Scott Hend, the 2016 Asian Tour No 1, and India’s |Shiv Kapur, who won on this |course at the Masters of Asia in |2005, will pose a formidable challenge. While Hend has the history of bringing his best to the Kingdom with two wins last year at the Thailand Classic and Queen’s Cup along with the 2013 Chiangmai Classic title, while Kapur won his maiden Asian Tour crown at the par-71, 7,097-yard course. The 35-year-old practised here ahead of last month’s Yeander Heritage in Taiwan where he ended a long drought with a second Tour win.
“This course holds a special place in my heart. I’m happy to come back and play here. I hope I can do well again,” the Indian said.