Super strong field ready for Seremban challenge

Siddikur Rahman

Seremban, July 5: The Negeri Sembilan Masters Invitational which  begins Thursday at the Seremban International Golf Club, will once again witness a star-studded line-up from across the region, vying for top honours.

The RM500,000 (US$165,000) event which makes its debut on the ASEAN PGA Tour this year will boast one of the strongest fields in the championship’s seven-year history.

Among the exciting names to watch out for this week are Siddikur Rahman, Thailand’s Chawalit Plaphol and Singha E-San Open winner Udorn Duangdecha, Filipinos Artemio Murakami and Juvic Pagunsan, as well as Scott Barr and Gavin Flint of Australia. The local challenge will be ably led by defending champion S. Sivachandhran and in-form Danny Chia.

The brainchild of the Menteri Besar of Negeri Sembilan Dato’ Seri Utama Hj. Mohamad Hj. Hasan, the championship which began in 2005 has grown to become one of the marquee tournaments on the Malaysian golf calendar.

“This is the seventh edition of championship and despite its modest beginnings, it has now matured and grown into one of the biggest golf tournaments aside from the Maybank Malaysian Open and the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic, Malaysia. Naturally, we are proud of the championship’s progress and success,” said Mohamad.

“One of the championship’s objectives is to provide a platform for the local professionals to compete against their regional peers for them to develop their skills and consequently raise their game to international level and looking at the quality field that we have this week, I believe we’ve managed to do that and now it’s up to the local players to raise their game and put up a strong challenge,” he added.

“We are delighted with the strength of the field this year. Out of the 156 players lining up for the title this week, 60 players are from the ASEAN PGA Tour’s Order of Merit and 40 are the country’s top professionals,” said tournament director Dato’ Haji Mohd Yaacob Mohd Kassim.

“There are also 20 invitees comprising some of the region’s well-known names and 23 qualifiers. We also invited 13 amateurs including eight national players and the winner of the Negeri Sembilan Amateur Open, Jerome Ng of Singapore, in line with our aims of providing playing opportunities to up and coming young talents,” added Mohd Yaacob.

Crowd favourite Siddikur is once again expected to garner a huge following this week, following his previous exploits in Malaysia. The 26-year-old has two top-ten finishes at the Maybank Malaysian Open in April and the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic, Malaysia last year to show.

“I am very happy to be here for the third time and I will try my best to win, as this is one of my favourite courses,” said the Bangladeshi who finished tied 18th on even-par 288 last year. “I like the layout as I started playing on this kind of course back home. The greens are better this year compared to the last two years when they were wet and tougher to read.”

In the 2010 edition last year, Sivachandhran completely dominated the field, triumphing by 12 shots to emerge the first local winner of the event with total score of 18-under-par 270, which would have been tournament record had the championship not been played under preferred lie rule.

“I will try my best to shoot low scores this week. I personally think that the course this year is tougher, as the greens are firmer so I would have to play it differently from last year,” said the defending champion, who is still buzzing with confidence after winning the PGM Melaka Classic last month.

“Competition wise, you can see there are a lot of youngsters entering the field this year, plus players from the ASEAN circuit, so there are a lot of good players here including the invitees. No doubt it will be a strong contest.”