Stars begin Thailand Open challenge

Stars begin Thailand Open challenge

Harrington, McGinley among top-class field

SAMUT PRAKAN : OneAsia and the Japan Golf Tour Organisation (JGTO) kick off their new season today at the Thailand Open as local hopefuls Thaworn Wiratchant and Prayad Marksaeng believe they can lift the King's Trophy.

Prayad Marksaeng, left, and Thaworn Wiratchant pose with the King’s Trophy at Thana City Golf and Sports Club yesterday.

The US$1 million tournament is being held at the Greg Norman-designed Thana City Golf and Sports Club and features three-time major champion Padraig Harrington, fellow Irishman Paul McGinley, defending champion Chris Wood of England and Japan's Shingo Katayama.

The Thai challenge is led by Asian Tour No.1 Thaworn and three-time JGTO winner Prayad.

Since the inaugural Thailand Open in 1965, only two Thais have claimed the coveted trophy donated by His Majesty the King _ Suthep Meesawat (1991) and Boonchu Raungkit (1992 and 2004).

Prayad said yesterday he and compatriots could win the title thanks to their course knowledge.

Prayad, 47, said that the course was perfectly set up and was not too difficult.

"Every Thai player, including myself, wants to win the Thailand Open. The King's Trophy is always a motivation for Thai golfers," he said.

"Many Thai players have a chance to win because they practise here quite often."

Prayad, a JGTO member, said his chance to win may rest with his putter.

"My iron play has been good. I can win if I putt well," said Prayad who made seven birdies and an eagle in yesterday's pro-am event.

"The greens are quite small so you need good putting."

Prayad hopes to go one better than his second place in 2011 when he lost to Australian Andre Stolze by two shots after the Thai held a two-shot lead after three rounds.

Thaworn, who is seeking his second OneAsia title after his success at the 2011 Indonesia Open, should be a genuine contender because the course is not too long.

But the 46-year-old's fitness could be a problem because he may feel exhausted after playing in last week's WCG-Cadillac Championship in Florida where he was tied for 53th.

"I have not been in good form lately. But to become successful, sometimes you need a bit of luck," he said. "I really, really want to win the trophy."

Wood said that winning his first professional title at the 2012 Thailand Open was a huge boost for him.

"The confidence I took from winning in Thailand last year was massive," said Wood, 25, jet-lagged after flying from Florida where he competed in the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

"I think it proved very important for me because since I won here, I won my first tournament on the European Tour [the 2013 Qatar Masters] as well."

Harrington, who also played at the Cadillac Championship, said his drive was good but he needed to improve his short game to win here.

"I always try to win in every tournament," said Harrington who will be making his Thailand Open debut.

"I am glad that Paul [McGinley] is also in the tournament."

McGinley, Harrington's close friend who will captain Europe's 2014 Ryder Cup team, said it was good for him to play in Thailand again.

"I had a great time in Thailand last year and I want to do well this week," he said.

Other players at Thana City Golf and Sports Club include Japanese stars Yuta Ikeda, Kenichi Kuboya and Hideto Tanihara and Kim Kyung-Tae, the first South Korean player to have won the JGTO Order of Merit.

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