Thongchai sets his sights on third Maybank Malaysian Open title

Thai star Thongchai Jaidee is itching to get his hands on the Maybank Malaysian Open trophy this week following famous back-to-back triumphs over a decade ago.

Thongchai JaideeThe three-time Asian Tour number one will spearhead the region’s challenge in the US$3 million showpiece which is co-sanctioned with the European Tour at the Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club (KLGCC).

Along with the likes of countryman Kiradech Aphibarnrat, winner here in 2013, and India’s Arjun Atwal, who tasted victories in 2003 and 2008, the leading Asian trio will face off a stellar line-up that includes title holder Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell.

Thongchai, who won in 2004 and 2005, finished in the top-35 in his first two events of the year in the Middle East in the past fortnight but he is ready to launch a title charge at the Maybank Malaysian Open, which is the season-opening event on the Asian Tour’s 2015 season.

“My confidence is good right now and I want to get better and better. I was top-25 and top-35 in the first two weeks but this week, I’m looking forward to challenging,” declared Thongchai.

The 45-year-old Thongchai won a second title on European soil last season and has risen to his current 37th position on the Official World Golf Ranking. During the off-season, he worked hard with long-time coach Peter Wolfenstetter, tightening an already reliable swing to ensure longevity in the game as he wants to play in the 2016 Olympic Games and contend in the Majors.

“I want to improve for the future and aim to play better in the Majors, which is the key goal, to be better than last year,” said the former paratrooper. “Golf is not easy but I’ll always try to make it fun. This week is an important week as it’s co-sanctioned and if you win this, you’ll jump up in the world ranking and also have a chance to become the Asian Tour number one.

“The Olympics is very important. It’s going to be back for the first time in a long while. It’s a great chance to play in the Olympics and everyone is very excited.”

Atwal and Kiradech believe they can also contend in the Maybank Malaysian Open after finding the missing pieces to their puzzle over the past season.

Atwal, Asia’s number one in 2003, won the inaugural Dubai Open for his eighth Asian Tour title in December to end a four-year title drought while Kiradech took almost a year to overcome the loss of his coach with his last win being the 2013 Maybank Malaysian Open.

“I didn’t think I would play golf again because of my injuries. It was tough for me to walk at a certain point. To get back from that stage to win a tournament, is probably the biggest in my life. I give it more importance to my PGA Tour win,” said Atwal, who is India’s first winner in America following an historic victory at the 2010 Wyndham Championship.

“I thought I was just being excited when I said it in Dubai but I do believe that it is. When I won in 2010, I was feeling good about my game and health. Even though I was a Monday qualifier, I told my caddy that I’m feeling great and we are going to win. In Dubai, I was still thinking if I could ever win again!” he added.

Into his 40s now, Atwal said that he is not overworking his body to ensure that he stays healthy. “I used to like practising! I wasn’t the type who would play a lot of rounds. I would get my work done on the range and I loved it. It was okay in my 20s and 30s but when I was 37 or so, the body starts to break down a little bit more because you do the same move.

“This is my 20th year as a professional. You keep doing the same repetitive move and something is going to happen. My routine now is more playing than practising,” he said.

Kiradech hopes to repeat his 2013 victory at KLGCC’s West Course.

“Last year was a difficult year for me. I worked with Pro Jew (his former coach who passed away) for a long time and it was tough to believe in another coach. But after five or six months, I started to feel comfortable with my new equipment and coach. I’m happy overcame the first few frustrating months and now I’m ready to start playing good golf,” said Kiradech, who ended 2014 with three straight top-10s.

“The Asian and European players are almost equal in standard. My game is on fire at the moment. I’m striking the ball much better than last year so I look forward to play well here again,” said the 25-year-old.

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