By Sports Reporter/Doha
Thai stars Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat will spearhead a strong Asian challenge at this week’s US$2.5 million Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, which will tee off at Doha Golf Club on Wednesday.
China No. 1 Wu Ashun will also strengthen the Asian challenge as he competes in the tournament for the first time, having won his maiden European Tour title last year.
Fans can also watch Jin Cheng, China’s top amateur, make his Doha debut less than three months before he competes in the Masters Tournament at Augusta National. The teenager earned his spot at the year’s first Major by winning the seventh Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Hong Kong last October.
In contrast to the Chinese newcomers, the experienced Thongchai, now 46, will be making his 14th appearance at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters and 13th in succession, having first competed in 2002 and played every year from 2004.
The World No. 28 is arguably in the form of his life as he looks to improve on his joint-ninth finishes in 2007 and 2013. Last September, he won his seventh European Tour title at the Porsche European Open in Germany and the following month played in his first Presidents Cup, halving his singles match with two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson in Korea.
Having turned pro in 1999 when he was 29, Thongchai won his first European Tour title in 2004 at the Malaysian Open, an Asian Tour co-sanctioned event that the former paratrooper won again the following year.
After winning two more co-sanctioned titles in Asia in 2009, he has since captured European Tour trophies in Wales (2012), Sweden (2014) and Germany (2015), and is also a 13-time champion and three-time Order of Merit winner on the Asian Tour.
Thongchai will be one of the top-ranked players in Doha as he looks to build on another strong European Tour season last year, when he also finished runner-up in the True Thailand Classic and the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event.
“I always like to play at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters because I enjoy the course, the weather is good and everything is well organised,” said Thongchai, who recently played in the EurAsia Cup in Malaysia for the second time, having captained Asia in 2014 when his team rallied to draw 10-10 with Europe.
“I’ve played in Qatar many times and had some good finishes, but I’d like to finish higher this time. I’m playing pretty well, but it’s a strong field with many good players each year. Kiradech is also playing well, so maybe there’s a chance of a Thai champion this year.”
Kiradech, who also played in his second EurAsia Cup, even outperformed Thongchai on last season’s European Tour by winning twice.
Currently World No. 39, Kiradech shot up the rankings by winning both the Shenzhen International in China and the Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play in Scotland, and securing six other top-five finishes. Kiradech won his first European Tour title in 2013 at the Malaysian Open, a result that helped him win the Asian Tour Order of Merit.
Earlier this month, Wu became the first Chinese to play in the EurAsia Cup, having already made history last April by capturing the Volvo China Open to become the first player from his country to win a European Tour title in mainland China.
In 2012, the Shanghai-based star also made history by becoming the first Chinese to win on the Japan Golf Tour, where he won again the following season. Now, the 30-year-old is breaking new ground for himself in Doha.
“I’m really excited to play in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters for the first time. I have heard many great things about the tournament and hope I can play my best,” said Wu, the third Chinese player to win on The European Tour.
“I’m becoming more used to playing against European Tour players, although I don’t have a lot of experience of playing in the Middle East. My win at the Volvo China Open gave me a lot of confidence, especially as I was able to join Zhang Lianwei and Liang Wenchong as a European Tour winner.”
Headline stars at the 19th Commercial Bank Qatar Masters include previous winners Sergio Garcia (2014) and Branden Grace (2015), 2010 Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen and reigning US Amateur champion Bryson DeChambeau.
Chris Wood, the 2013 champion, is among five of Europe’s victorious EurAsia Cup team confirmed to compete.
Qatar Golf Association president Hassan al-Nuaimi said: “Thongchai Jaidee is one of the most loyal supporters of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, now playing for the 14th time. He really put Thailand on the golfing map and Kiradech Aphibarnrat is following in his footsteps as one of Asia’s most exciting talents.
“We’re also proud to welcome Wu Ashun and Jin Cheng of China for the first time, and I know they will enjoy strong support from the players and fans as they make their debut at Doha Golf Club.”
Garcia and Grace are among several big names to have lifted the Mother of Pearl Trophy since Commercial Bank began its title sponsorship in 2006. Other big names include former World No. 1 Adam Scott, two-time US Open winner Retief Goosen, 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie, former European Tour No. 1s Henrik Stenson and Robert Karlsson and Thomas Bjorn, a 15-time European Tour champion.
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