KUALA LUMPUR: Thai star Kiradech Aphibarnrat is looking forward to a fast start to his PGA Tour career at a venue which has become a favourite hunting ground.
The big-hitting Kiradech, who became the first Thai to earn a PGA Tour card following top-five finishes at two World Golf Championships events earlier this year, will be amongst the Asian contingent eager to register a victory at the US$7 million CIMB Classic, which begins at TPC Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.
The CIMB Classic is the second event on the new 2018-19 PGA Tour Season.
Following a three-week break at home, Kiradech is sufficiently recharged and plans to challenge for the title against a stellar line-up which includes title holder Pat Perez, 2017 FedExCup Champion Justin Thomas, last week’s season-opening event winner Kevin Tway and World Golf Hall of Famers Ernie Els and Davis Love III.
“It’s like a dream come true. When I was a kid, my goal has been to be a part of the PGA Tour. Twenty years later, I hold a Tour card, I can’t explain how it feels but it is such a good moment for me. To play my first PGA Tour event, my first full card in Asia, especially in Malaysia, it feels like everything has happened in my golf career,” said Kiradech in a press conference today.
Five years ago, Kiradech won the Malaysian Open at TPC Kuala Lumpur’s West Course and secured a third-place finish at the CIMB Classic, which remains his best career finish to date on the PGA Tour. He hopes to enjoy a rub off the greens at the West course.
“It is such a pleasure to be here back in Malaysia again. I haven’t been here for two, three years, I think. I’ve been playing Malaysia Open many times, especially on this course I’m playing so well and have a good record over here. My career started here and it’s nice to be back home again,” said Kiradech.
He also raved about the newly renovated West Course which switched to Tifeagle Bermuda grass on all greens, while the fairways and tee boxes have been re-turfed with Celebration Bermuda grass, creating firmer and faster playing conditions.
“The golf course is in good shape. The greens are fantastic. I think it’s the first time I see the ball roll on the fairways, which is like a good sign. The fairway will be more difficult because it’s going to roll off the fairways because previously, it just stops or just end up a yard away. The green is firmer and faster and there is lot of slope on the greens and I’m sure you’re going to hole less putts,” said Kiradech.
“My goal is to be in the top-60 in the FedExCup points, and keep the card as long as I can, same as my good friend Anirban (Lahiri). I think I’ve got enough experience to playing against the world-class players to do so.”
While Kiradech has his PGA Tour card in hand for the 2018-19 Season, India’s Shubhankar Sharma, who is in the CIMB Classic field as one of the top-10 players from the Asian Tour, is eager to get his way to the world’s premier circuit.
After Malaysia, he also has a spot in next week’s CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES in South Korea and the World Golf Championships event in Shanghai over the next fortnight.
“No doubt very, very important,” said Sharma, who came to international prominence with his T9 finish at the WGC-Mexico Championship where he led after the second and third rounds. “Obviously all three events are big events. You have some of the best players in the world playing. Even next week in Korea and China, all these events are going to be really big. They’re all PGA Tour events,” said Sharma, 22.
“If I just play well in these three events, have consistent finishes, I feel like I’ll get off to a very good start and obviously help my world ranking. I feel like this start will really help me next year securing my card (on the PGA Tour).”