Merit showdown at Sabah Masters

Nicholas Fung © ArepKulal
Nicholas Fung © ArepKulal

Sabah Masters LogoKota Kinabalu: East Malaysian golf fans will be in for a spectacular show of exciting golf as a wealth of leading players from the region congregate at the Sutera Harbour Golf & Country Club for the Sabah Masters next week.

The tournament – which dates back to 1982 – was revived last year with the strong backing of Sabah Tourism Board (STB) after a 12-year absence and will providing a thrilling conclusion to the 2012/2013 ASEAN PGA Tour.

Sabah’s own Nicholas Fung, who leads the current Order of Merit heads a cast which includes Thailand’s Annop Tangkamolprasert and arch rival Jay Bayron from the Philippines, who are third and fourth respectively on the Merit list.

A richer prize chest of US$75,000 – up from US$60,000 in 2011 – will only raise the stakes further for the cast which includes the likes of defending champion Wisut Artjanawat of Thailand, Indonesia’s Rory Hie, Choo Tze Huang of Singapore as well as experienced regional winners in Mardan Mamat and Danny Chia.

“The Sabah Masters is an ideal property which the Sabah Tourism Board can use to show to our region the huge appeal of Kota Kinabalu and Sabah,” said Datuk Masidi Manjun, Sabah’s Minister of Tourism, Cultural & Environment.

“Sabah is a wonderful tourist destination for golfers and non golfers. It is a very special place with so much to do and we are delighted that many of Southeast Asia’s best professionals will play. The tournament has in the past played an important role in our tourism industry and will continue to do so in the future.”

In 2011, Wisut triumphed by one stroke over Fung and Filipino Anthony Fernando, who will also compete this year. The 30-year-old shot a sizzling final round four-under-par 66 for a four-day total of two-under 278 at Sutera Harbour.

His win meant he became the first player to triumph four times on the ASEAN PGA Tour, which was inaugurated in 2007, and also the first to claim back-to-back titles as he also won the preceding Palembang MUSI Championship.

This will mark the third occasion Sutera Harbour has hosted the tournament as it was also staged at the impressive venue in 1999 when American Robert Huxtable triumphed.

“Sutera Harbour felt the 2011 Sabah Masters was a tremendous success and we are thoroughly looking forward to the next edition. The tournament allows us to watch some of the region’s finest professionals compete on a course that we are very proud of while at the same time showcasing the many other treats that Sutera Harbour has to offer,” said Sutera Harbour Marina, Golf & Country Club general manager Howie Roberts.

“Sabah’s reputation as one of the strongholds of Malaysian golf is sure to be enhanced by another fine edition of their prestigious tournament. It is extremely rewarding to see the Sabah Master continue its’ revival and particularly as the ASEAN PGA Tour’s season ending event,” said ASEAN PGA executive chairman AC Wong.

One player who will not be far away from the spotlight is Nicholas, who finished 2012 as the domestic Professional Golf of Malaysia (PGM) Tour Order of Merit winner.

The 22-year-old hopes to make amends for his performance last year, when he finished a stroke short off winner Wisut and in the process achieved a rare double by topping the ASEAN PGA money list as well.

“Last year, I was not able to find my winning form on the ASEAN PGA, settling for runner-up finishes in all the three tournaments that I had participated in. Even then, I finished a close second to Wisut in the Order of Merit race,” said Nicholas, who currently tops the Order of Merit with US$29,933.

“I know the course pretty well, and I can also depend on the local support. The objective would be to stay ahead of my challengers and eliminate uncharacteristic mistakes like what I made in the final round last year, which cost me the title,” he noted.