KUALA LUMPUR: Thai ace Kiradech Aphibarnrat is hoping marital bliss will drive him to victory at the inaugural US$3 million Maybank Championship Malaysia which starts on Thursday.
Newly-wed Kiradech tied the knot with sweetheart Tunyatorn Chaiyarat over the weekend but delayed his honeymoon to become one of the headliners in the newest tournament on the Asian Tour and European Tour.
The popular Thai, who has won previously in Malaysia when he became the Asian Tour number one in 2013, wants to pocket the champion’s cheque of US$500,000 at Royal Selangor Golf Club as a wedding gift and gain an extra dose of confidence ahead of a big season ahead.
With appearances in all the Majors and World Golf Championships secured for 2016 after he ended last season as the world’s number 38, big-hitting Kiradech will need to contend with 10 other world’s top-60 players in the elite field here including Danny Willett of England, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and Germany’s Martin Kaymer.
“You must always try to win in every tournament you play in. But it is true, if you win early in the year, you will have much higher confidence. This is a big event with a lot of great players so I’m very happy to be part of it. If I win, I will earn a lot of world ranking points,” said Kiradech, now ranked 44th in the world.
Playing in what he describes as his ‘honeymoon’ week, Kiradech hopes to make it a week to remember after marrying Tunyatorn in a hot air balloon festival in Chiangrai, Thailand.
“She teaches in Thailand so she can’t come here because her students have an exam next week. I don’t want to keep reminding my wife about the honeymoon because she will get angry! But she understands my work,” he laughed.
Kiradech injured his neck last month but is ready to contend again in the Maybank Championship Malaysia. “My game is good. I injured my neck at the EurAsia Cup (last month) and then I played the last few weeks in the Middle East. I made the cut but I didn’t finish well because I wasn’t 100% recovered. I’m fully recovered for this week and ready to go.”
Two-time Major winner Kaymer is feeling rejuvenated after enjoying a holiday last week to recharge his batteries. After finishing tied 16th in Abu Dhabi and missing the cut in Dubai two weeks ago, the German star is feeling optimistic of challenging for the title at Royal Selangor.
“I’ve played many times in Malaysia, but this has to be my favourite course here. It’s definitely my kind of course, I grew up playing tree-lined courses so in some ways this place reminds me of home – although it’s a little bit warmer here!” he said.
“I practised hard over the winter, sometimes it pays off straight away and other times it takes longer. The last few years, I’ve managed to get off to a fast start, especially in Abu Dhabi, but this time I’ve struggled to find my rhythm. So I took time off last week and went on holiday, and it really helped to clear my head,” added Kaymer.
An injury-free Jeev Milkha Singh of India, a two-time Asian Tour Order of Merit champion, believes he has what it takes to return to the winner’s circle and end a title drought which dates back to 2012.
After struggling with injuries over the last three seasons, the 44-year-old Singh reckons he has rectified his golf swing by watching old videos when he dominated in Asia in 2006 and 2008.
“Because of the injury in my right shoulder, I started doing something in my swing which wasn’t working for me. I think the most important thing for a golfer is he needs to know where the club is when he takes it back. For the last three years, I didn’t know where it was and it was too quick.
“The best golf I played with was when I know where the club is and when it comes back, it comes back square to the ball. So, I’ve got something which I’ve tried in Dubai in the last round. I felt really good, I hit a lot of golf shots which I felt like the way I used to hit it. It’s a matter of time when everything clicks. Like I said, I will win this year,” said Singh.
Korean rising star Jeunghun Wang, regarded as one of the best ball strikers in Asia, will switch to a new putter this week as he searches for a first Asian Tour title. The 20-year-old is brimming with confidence after representing Team Asia in the EurAsia Cup last month.
“I just changed my putter after struggling in Myanmar. I played well there but I couldn’t putt. I want to try with a new one this week although like I said, I only had one birdie today but I will keep trying,” said Wang, who finished fourth in Myanmar two weeks ago.
“I really want to win on the Asian Tour. This week would be good as it’s a big tournament but we’ve got a good field this week. I think I’m pretty close to winning on the Asian Tour but for a win in co-sanctioned event, it may be a bit harder although I’ve got more confidence now in my ability,” he explained.