In-form Kiradech targets improvement

Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat believes the experience of playing in two recent major championships and a World Golf Championships (WGC) event will allow him to find his top form and peak on the world stage very soon.

The 24-year-old savoured a memorable week at the PGA Championship when he signed off as the best-placed Asian after Japan's Hideki Matsuyama on Sunday.

"My golf game is not very far off but I need to gain more experience. I've to learn how to play well under pressure and to stop feeling so nervous," said Kiradech, who finished tied for 25th at Oak Hill Country Club.

The Thai, who currently leads the Asian Tour's Order of Merit, showed a marked improvement after making his major debut at the British Open last month.

Having started well at Muirfield only to make an exit after the second round, Kiradech subsequently made quite an impression with a joint-40th finish at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and followed that up by upstaging the marquee names, including Americans Phil Mickelson and world No.1 Tiger Woods, at Oak Hill.

"Even though I missed out on a top-15 finish which would have guaranteed my place next year at the PGA Championship, I'm still quite happy with my finish. The conditions were tough and I still returned with a good score," said Kiradech, who moved up eight places to 77th position on the latest world rankings.

"I've now experienced what it is like to be playing in the majors and I know how to prepare my game which is important. I think I can play well in the coming years," he said.

Kiradech's exploits in the US over the past fortnight attracted a small army of fans and caught the attention of the international media as well.

"I never imagined that I would receive such a warm welcome from the American fans," he said. "Even though they can't pronounce my name correctly, at least they make an attempt to call me. I love that.".

With his confidence boosted from his run at the PGA Championship, the Thai is now hoping to make a late push to get into the International team for the Presidents Cup to face the United States in October.

He is currently 15th on the team rankings, with the top 10 at the end of August earning automatic places, while captain Nick Price will have two wildcard picks.

"I know I have a small chance but I will need to play well in my next few events," he said.

He then fired a warning to his rivals by declaring his intent to win the coveted Asia's Order of Merit.

With the second half of the Asian Tour season due to resume with the European Masters early next month, Kiradech, winner of the Malaysian Open in March, is bidding to become the third Thai after Thongchai Jaidee (2001, 2004 and 2009) and Thaworn Wiratchant (2005 and 2012) to win the merit crown.

"I made a promise to myself that I'll finish as the best player on the Asian Tour this season," Kiradech said.

Meanwhile, Thongchai, the other Thai at Oak Hill, finished tied for 47th at the PGA Championship as he edged to within 0.03 points behind 10th-placed Tim Clark of South Africa in the International team standings.

Thongchai moved up two places to 58th in the world.

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Writer: Calvin Koh