Kota Permai milestone for Thaworn

Thaworn Wiratchant with the Sultan of Selangor trophy © The ClubHouse

Shah Alam: Thai maestro Thaworn Wiratchant reignited his long-standing love affair with Malaysia after marching to his 14th Asian Tour title at the Worldwide Holdings Selangor Masters on Saturday.

Thaworn, whose first win on the Asian Tour came at the Sabah Masters 16 years ago, overcame a mid-round wobble to close with a three-under 69 at Kota Permai Golf & Country Club for a three-stroke victory over Gaganjeet Bhullar of India. The 45-year-old totalled 16-under-par 272 over four days to walk away with the winner’s prize purse of US$60,900.

Two-time Asian Tour winner Bhullar drained five birdies in a flawless front nine to roar into contention but could only garner two further birdies against a solitary bogey on the homeward stretch to register a round of six-under 66 for a 13-under-par 275 total.

He was closely followed by the trio of Bangladeshi Siddikur (66), Javi Colomo (67) of Spain and joint halfway leader Michael Tran (68), who were level on 12-under-par 276. American Jason Knutzon and Swedish rookie Jesper Kennegard took a share of sixth on 278 on the back of rounds of 68 and 72 respectively.

“I’m very glad to win this tournament,” said Thaworn, who previously lifted the Volvo Masters of Asia in 2001 at the same venue. “When I played in the practice round, I thought I would have a disadvantage on the par fives but I holed a few birdies and my confidence started to build.”

“The first time I joined the Asian Tour, I couldn’t make the cut. I never thought I would come this far. After I won my first title, I thought I could win more and I kept practising more and more to make myself better.”

Holding a three-shot overnight lead, the unorthodox swinging Thaworn put some daylight between himself and the chasing pack with four birdies in his opening eight holes. Bogeys on nine and 10 saw Bhullar cut the lead down to three but Thaworn responded like a true champion with birdies on 12th and 13th to eventually stroll to victory, despite another dropped shot on the 18th hole.

“I got off to a good start but after playing for a while, I started to feel tired and couldn’t control my iron shots,” said Thaworn, who now has one more title on the Asian Tour than countryman Thongchai Jaidee.

Rising star Bhullar tried to apply some pressure on the leader but a bogey on 11th when he missed a short putt put the brakes on his charge. “Thaworn was too far ahead. If we played in the same group as him, it may have made a difference. But he’s an experienced guy as he knows how to close the deal. Congratulations to him,” said the 24-year-old.

“I hit it really good, hit 17 greens in regulations and just missed one fairway. My game is coming back. I feel the time is right to click (win) another one. I just have to be patient and wait for another one.”

Surprise package Tran, who was thinking of quitting the game after a lack of success, produced a superb inward 31 after touring his opening nine with two double bogeys and three birdies.

“The two doubles really hurt me. It should not have been doubles. When I made the turn, I saw I had no chance to win. I just said to myself ‘enjoy the last nine holes’ and that’s what I did. I stopped trying to force things to happen,” said the 22-year-old Tran, Vietnam’s only player on the Asian Tour.

“This should give me some hope to get into the events later like the Thailand Golf Championship and Iskandar Johor Open. If I can get my card by finishing in the top-60 (of the Order of Merit), it will change my decision.”

After making the halfway cut right on the number, Siddikur, Bangladesh’s first winner in Asia, capped a memorable comeback with two successive 66s to finish joint third.

“It was a great round for me,” said Siddikur, who was bogey-free. “I was very tired on the first two days as I was a little bit jetlagged (from playing in Switzerland last week). My putting was really good in the last two days.”

Colomo, a Qualifying School graduate, continued to impress with his third top-five finish of the season after a round that included six birdies against a lone bogey.

“It was a fantastic week even though I feel a bit tired from my flight from Spain. I was playing well the last few months. But I need to improve on my putter because I lost all my confidence with the putter. I have to train my putting but in general I feel confident in my game. It will be fantastic to have a victory on the Asian Tour because there are a lot of good players here,” he said.

Leading final round scores

272 – Thaworn Wiratchant (THA) 66-69-68-69
275 – Gaganjeet Bhullar (IND) 68-71-70-66
276 – Siddikur (BAN) 73-71-66-66; Javi Colomo (ESP) 68-69-72-67; Michael Tran (VIE) 67-68-73-68
278 – Jason Knutzon (USA) 72-68-70-68; Jesper Kennegard (SWE) 70-69-67-72
279 – Mars Pucay (PHI) 73-71-68-67 ; Marcus Both (AUS) 67-69-73-70
280 – Thanyakon Khrongpha (THA) 72-70-71-67; Kieran Pratt (AUS) 67-71-71-71; Lam Chih Bing (SIN) 70-70-69-71; Jonathan Moore (USA) 67-71-70-72

Selected scores
285 – Nicholas Fung 69-73-72-71
288 – Lim Eng Seng 70-72-72-74; Danny Chia 70-73-72-73;
289 – Airil Rizman Zahari 72-71-73-73; Shaaban Hussin 70-74-74-71
290 – Abel Tam (A) 71-73-71-75; Low Khai Jei (A) 74-70-72-79