Thai ace Kiradech Aphibarnrat plans to ride on the momentum from a runner-up finish to challenge for the US$650,000 Mercuries Taiwan Masters title this week.
The reigning Asian Tour number one shrugged off a six-week injury lay-off to contend in Japan last weekend and hopes to go one better when he makes his debut at the Taiwan Golf and Country Club’s Tamsui course.
The long-hitting Kiradech will be amongst a stellar international cast from over 19 countries battling for the winner’s cheque of US$130,000 when the popular tournament tees off on Thursday.
He will be joined by compatriot Thaworn Wiratchant, local hero Lin Wen-tang, defending champion Scott Hend of Australia as well as Korea’s Baek Seuk-hyun in the long-running Mercuries Taiwan Masters, which is celebrating its 28th edition this week.
Also in the fray are American Jason Knutzon, who is currently third on the Order of Merit, in-form Antonio Lascuna of the Philippines, India’s Rahil Gangjee and recent Thai winners Prom Meesawat and Chapchai Nirat, who claimed victories in Chinese Taipei and Malaysia respectively.
Kiradech was delighted to post his season’s best outing on Sunday which pushed him into eighth place on the latest Asian Tour rankings. He is in prime position to be amongst the leading-10 players to qualify for the US$7 million CIMB Classic in Malaysia next month.
“I hit the ball really well last week. I gained lots of confidence from the way I hit the ball. I’m definitely pleased with my result. I did not want to give myself too much pressure but it was an indication that I am still able to play good golf,” said the 25-year-old Thai.
“My knee has not recovered completely as I can still feel some pain when I’m swinging the club. But it’s about 80 per cent there and I know I’ll get better. I’m going to play my best as I can feel my form is coming back.”
He is certainly fired up for strong outings over the next few weeks. The leading four golfers from the Order of Merit as of October 20 will also earn starting places in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in November, which Kiradech is keen to get into.
Baek, who turns 24 next week, is also counting on his good run of form to lead him to an elusive first victory on the region’s premier Tour. Currently seventh on the Order of Merit, Baek has endured several near misses since last year where he has claimed 12 top-10s, including a tied-fifth finish in Japan last week.
Despite the demands of the Tamsui course, Baek is confident of putting on a good show as he has not missed a cut in four appearances at the Mercuries Taiwan Masters. His best result was a tied-sixth finish last year.
“You need to chip and putt well on that course. I think 30 per cent of it depends on luck too because it is very hard to control the ball given the windy conditions. I am confident of playing well because I have never missed the cut there over the last few years,” he said.
“Accuracy will be the key to score and I hope I will get better luck this time,” added the Thai-based Korean.