Asian Tour's penultimate event of the season starts today in Siem Reap with trailing members desperate to upset hotshots to secure a Tour card for 2009
Thailand's Thaworn Wiratchant is playing for an Asian Tour record 11th title this weekend – as well as a first prize of US$47, 550.
SIEM REAP - The Cambodian Open marks its return in Siem Reap with a promise to continuing the growth of golf in Cambodia.
Organisers are confident the US$300,000 Asian Tour event will once again provide the platform for aspiring amateurs to make an impact at the highly rated Phokheetra Country Club and continue to place Cambodia firmly on the international golfing map. The Asian Tour's senior vice president, Gerry Norquist, said he believes that the staging of the Cambodia event bodes well for the future of golf in such developing countries and will act as a launch pad for exciting talents to emerge.
"We are truly excited about the return of the Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open as this event will not only provide the inspiration for Cambodians to learn more about the game but also allow them to follow in the footsteps of our Asian Tour professionals," said Norquist.
As the second-from-last ranking event on the 2008 Asian Tour calendar, the Cambodian Open will also shape the race for the prestigious Asian Tour Order of Merit title, which is currently led by Mark Brown of New Zealand.
Defending champion Bryan Saltus of the United States, who secured his maiden triumph at last year's inaugural event, will undoubtedly be among the contenders again.
The colourful American celebrated his victory last year by jumping into the lake next to the 18th green after his final putt.
"Cambodia will always be a special part of my life forever," said Saltus, who was forced out of last month's Singapore Open after dislocating his right knee on the first hole, raising doubts about his ability to defend his title here this week.
"I'll not be ready to defend the way I was hoping, but I'll give my 125 percent efforts in defending my title," he added.
For Saltus, the Cambodian event that finishes Sunday will also be a long-awaited reunion with his local caddie and friends with whom he has established a lasting friendship.
I'll not be ready to defend the way I was hoping, but I'll give my 125 percent efforts.
"I've been looking forward to seeing the friends that I have made
here," said the American. "My caddie, first of all, and also my private
limo driver - I mean the tuk tuk driver who calls himself Lucky - he's
simply the best in the land."
A long wait for Mardan
- Where Phokeethra Country Club, Siem Reap
- When December 11-14
- Prize money US$300,000 (Winner’s purse of $47,550)
- Top contenders
Thaworn Wiratchant (Thai), Bryan Saltus (US), Prayad Marksaeng (Thai), Mardan Mamat (S’pore), Thongchai Jaidee (Thai)
Battle intensifies to finish in top 65 of Asian Tour Order of Merit in order to ensure place on next season’s Tour.
• Saltus returns with a vengence following injury.
• Tongchai looking to continue winning form after ending two-year title drought with victory at Vietnam Masters last week.
• Thaworn aims to extend Asian tour victories record.
• Mardan poised to end long wait for a win.
Meanwhile, Singapore's Mardan Mamat is hoping that his long overdue win will finally come this weekend, after coming close to a victory with three top-10 finishes on the Asian Tour this season.
Mardan, whose last victory on the Asian Tour was at the 2006 Singapore Masters, has endured a winless streak since then, though the 41-year-old is assured of a place in next year's Tour lineup, having locked himself within the top-65 finishers of the season.
"It's always nice to finish the year with a good result, and I'm definitely looking forward to playing well this week," said Mardan, currently 24th on the Asian Tour Order of Merit.
"It has been like a rollercoaster ride for me all season but, overall, I'm quite pleased with how I've played, especially since I've managed to keep my Asian Tour card for next year," he said.
South Korea's Kim Nam-kang, however, heads into the Cambodian Open knowing that nothing less than a top-three finish will secure his full playing rights for the 2009 Tour.
Kim is currently 75th in the Order of Merit and will be battling with a handful of others to avoid a trip back to qualifying school next month.
"I'm well aware of the task ahead for me this week. My goal is simple. It's to finish in the top three, or even win the title, so that I can secure my full playing rights for next year," said Kim.
"This is my last tournament for the season, and I hope I can perform to my true abilities."
England's Steven Tiley, currently 71st, is also well aware of the challenges awaiting him in Siem Reap.
"Every week's a big week, and this week's going to be no different ... the pressure is always there," said Tiley, whose best performance this season was a tied-ninth finish at the Macau Open.
Record awaits Thaworn
At the other end of the rankings, Thailand's Thaworn Wiratchant, sitting at eighth place, knows that another victory will cement his place in the Asian Tour's history books.
The leading Thai star currently holds the most number of career wins on the Asian Tour, with 10 victories, and is in a confident mood after ending his Vietnam campaign in fourth place last week.
"I feel that I'm beginning to hit top form, heading into all these last few events of the season," said Thaworn. Other top contenders this week will be last week's Vietnam winner Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand, South Korea's Mo Joong-kyung and Filipino Frankie Minoza.
REPORTING BY ASIAN TOUR