Steel confident of new partnership with Shaaban

Shaaban Hussin © T. Ravi Chitty/The ClubHouse

Petaling Jaya: Iain Steel believes his newly-formed partnership with Shaaban Hussin will be the ideal tonic to push Malaysia into their first Omega Mission Hills World Cup appearance in 10 years.

The local duo will vie against 16 other two-man teams for the three tickets at stake at the Omega Mission Hills World Cup Asian Qualifying which starts at the Seri Selangor Golf Club on Wednesday.

Singapore, led by Mardan Mamat and Lam Chih Bing and winners of the 2009 Asian Qualifying, the Philippines, powered by veterans Mars Pucay and Antonio Lascuna and India’s rising stars Anirban Lahiri and Gaganjeet Bhullar are amongst those expected to shine this week.

The format of competition will be the same as the Omega Mission Hills World Cup, with four-ball (better ball) being played in the first and third rounds and foursomes (alternate shot) used in the second and final rounds.

This week will be Steel’s fifth attempt at steering Malaysia into their first World Cup since 2001 and he is excited to have Shaaban, who is the next highest ranked Malaysian on the Official World Golf Ranking, as his partner this year.

“This is a new partnership and a new way of looking at things. It has been two years since the last World Cup qualifier so hopefully this year will turn a little bit different for us. It doesn’t matter who our partners are and hopefully we can play good enough to finish in the top three,” said the United States-based Steel.

“In the better ball format, I just told Shaaban to attack everything. There’s no point holding back. We need a lot of birdies. In the alternate shot, he did have a few questions. Hopefully I guided him in the right direction,” he added.

Shaaban, who finished tied 20th at the Indonesian Masters on the Asian Tour in April, will be making his debut in the World Cup qualifier and will look to his more experienced partner for guidance.

“I’m playing in this format for the first time but luckily, we are playing on my home course which will help a lot. I have played two practice rounds with Iain and he has given me motivation and tips on how to play in this format. He will definitely help pull this team up,” said Shaaban, a former Malaysian amateur number one.

Lam and Mardan will be aiming to qualify for the World Cup for the fifth time. Seri Selangor offers fond memories for the duo as they previously qualified for the World Cup at the same venue in 2006 and 2009.

“We’ve had some success here before. We have some good memories here and the goal this week is obviously to finish in the top three. It feels like we haven’t done it for quite a while because we didn’t have (the World Cup) last year,” said Lam, a winner on the Asian Tour.

Mardan believes their experience of playing together in this format will be an advantage over the 16 teams gathered this week. “We have partners since our amateur days. Lam and I complement each other especially in this format and hopefully we can make our fifth appearance in the World Cup. You have to have a good relationship and we have been playing in this team event for many years,” said Mardan.

Lahiri and Bhullar will team up for the first time in the qualifiers and will bank on their experience of playing together as amateurs to earn their way to Mission Hills in China.

“We have been playing in team formats since we were 15 years old. We are really looking forward to it. We had a good time playing as team partners previously. As far as playing experience goes, both of us know each others game quite well because we have been playing together for over a decade,” said Lahiri, who won his maiden Asian Tour title on home soil earlier this year.

As amateurs, Lahiri and Bhullar were victorious in the team events in the 2005 Asian Junior Team Championship and 2006 Asian Games in Doha.

“We are both aggressive players and we’ve had a lot of success teaming up during our amateur days. We are looking forward to playing in the World Cup and we want to follow in the footsteps of Arjun Atwal and Jeev Milkha Singh in continuing to raise the Indian flag,” added Bhullar, a two-time Asian Tour winner.

Filipino Pucay is relishing the new partnership with the in-form Lascuna, who finished tied third at the Worldwide Holdings Selangor Masters two weeks ago. Lascuna also won at Seri Selangor in the 2007 Selangor Masters when it was a domestic event.

“I have a good partnership with Antonio and he has experience playing in the World Cup (in 2007 with Gerald Rosales),” said Pucay.

“We are confident of doing well here. Teamwork is very important in this format and it is important to keep in mind that this is a team competition and not a chase for personal glory,” added Pucay, who had previously played in the 2008 and 2009 World Cups with Angelo Que.

Bangladesh withdrew from the qualifier as Siddikur did not make the trip to Malaysia following an illness to his father in Dhaka.

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