Bangkok, Oct 27 (IANS) Defending champion Lee Westwood is looking to mix business with pleasure when he goes in search of an unprecedented third victory at the Thailand Golf Championship which will return to the award-winning Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi from December 10 to 13.
The 42-year-old Englishman will line up alongside multiple Major winners Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer in a star-studded field for the fifth edition of a tournament. Past champion Sergio Garcia, 2016 European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke and local favourites Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat have also committed to play in the Asian Tour’s flagship event, which boasts a prize purse of $1 million.
Four highly coveted places at The Open in 2016, which will be staged at Royal Troon, will be up for grabs at Amata Spring for those players who are not already exempt from golf’s oldest Major championship. Westwood, so often a hero for Europe at the Ryder Cup, claimed a historic second Thailand Golf Championship title last December when he staged a brilliant come-from-behind victory to pip debutant Kaymer and Australia’s Marcus Fraser on a thrilling final day of action.
Amata Spring, which has been voted the best course on the Asian Tour for the last three years, clearly agrees with the Englishman. He fired the lowest round of his professional career – a scintillating 12-under-par 60 – en-route to winning the inaugural championship in 2011. “The Thailand Golf Championship is one of the most enjoyable weeks on my schedule, so it’s going to be great to return to a course where I’ve enjoyed success in the past. I have many wonderful memories of playing at Amata Spring,” said former World No.1 Westwood, who has racked up 42 wins since turning pro in 1993.
“Both my wins are special and both were very different – shooting 60 in 2011 to win by seven, and then putting in a good round in tough conditions last year to win by a shot. It’s a first-class tournament that always features a high-quality field. I’m looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead.”
In Watson and Kaymer, Westwood faces a pair of Major champions who return with their sights set firmly on a title that has narrowly eluded them in the past. One player who needs no introduction to the Thailand Golf Championship is Kaymer’s Ryder Cup teammate, Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard has been a regular fixture at Amata Spring since the start and tasted a sweet victory in 2013.
Although the elegant Thailand Golf Championship trophy has gone to international players for four straight years, the galleries can be assured of a strong Thai challenge thanks to the form of local stars Thongchai Jaidee, Kiradech Aphirbarnrat and Prayad Marksaeng. The significant financial rewards on offer and its position as the penultimate event on the Asian Tour calendar means the tournament will likely play a key role in determining who claims the Order of Merit.
In 2014, current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Anirban Lahiri of India, the Australian duo of Scott Hend and Marcus Fraser, and Jonathan Moore of the United States all secured their spots at St. Andrews this summer after finishing this championship as the top four players who weren’t already exempt for The Open.