Asian An­gle

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Chuah Choo Chi­ang

Guess who will be the next Asian win­ner at the first World Golf Cham­pi­onship tour­na­ment of 2018, the WGC-Mex­ico Cham­pi­onship?

Chuah Choo Chi­ang pre­dicts who can be the next Asian win­ner at the first World Golf Cham­pi­onship tour­na­ment of 2018, the WGC-Mex­ico Cham­pi­onship in early March.

When it comes to World Golf Cham­pi­onships events, Dustin John­son prob­a­bly pro­vides the best de­scrip­tion. “They are very im­por­tant tour­na­ments. They are big tour­na­ments. They bring to­gether the best play­ers in the world,” said the 17-time PGA TOUR win­ner and cur­rent world No. 1. It is no won­der th­ese fac­tors have driven the long-hitting Amer­i­can su­per­star to five WGC ti­tles, where he is sec­ond af­ter Tiger Woods for most WGC ca­reer vic­to­ries. Beat­ing the best of the best has pushed him to ex­cel and the mantra ap­pears to be driv­ing Asia’s band of new glory seek­ers on the WGC fron­tier.

The re­gion’s flag­bear­ers will get a crack against the world’s elite when the first WGC tour­na­ment of 2018, the World Golf Cham­pi­onships-Mex­ico Cham­pi­onship, takes place at Club de Golf Cha­pul­te­pec in Mex­ico City from March 1-4. John­son is the de­fend­ing cham­pion at the US$10 mil­lion show­piece, which is sup­ported by the Sali­nas fam­ily who is in­tented to help grow the game fur­ther in Mex­ico.

While WGC tour­na­ments have been held suc­cess­fully for nearly two decades, Ja­pan’s Hideki Mat­suyama has only burst through the gates re­cently as Asia’s most suc­cess­ful golfer fol­low­ing stand­out tri­umphs at the World Golf Cham­pi­onship­sHSBC Cham­pi­ons in 2016 and World Golf Cham­pi­onships-Bridge­stone In­vi­ta­tional last year.

At 25, he has en­trenched him­self as be­ing amongst a new wave of ul­tra­tal­ented golfers dom­i­nat­ing the global golf scene along­side the power hit­ters such as John­son, reign­ing FedExCup cham­pion Justin Thomas and Jor­dan Spi­eth.

Be­yond Mat­suyama, Asia is count­ing on the likes of China’s Li Hao­tong, 22, Ki­radech Aphibarn­rat of Thai­land, 28, and 24-year-old Gavin Green of Malaysia to be­come world-beat­ers. Each has shown glimpses of great­ness and the trio will get their chance to un­der­pin their cre­den­tials in Mex­ico, which is not lost on them.

“I’m re­ally ex­cited about the WGC-Mex­ico Cham­pi­onship. It is al­ways my am­bi­tion to play and com­pete against the best play­ers in the world, so to get into the elite field is a spe­cial feel­ing,” said Li, who en­joyed an im­pres­sive third-place fin­ish at The Open Cham­pi­onship last July.

“As it is also my first WGC ap­pear­ance out­side of China, I am de­ter­mined to make it a mem­o­rable week. Hope­fully, I can con­tend for a win,” added Li, who is a prod­uct of the China Golf As­so­ci­a­tion-HSBC Ju­nior Golf pro­gramme and a grad­u­ate of the PGA TOUR Se­ries-China.

Green, who starred for the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico dur­ing his ama­teur days, cre­ated a slice of golf his­tory at the end of last year when he be­came the first Malaysian to win the Asian Tour’s Or­der of Merit, which earned him a maiden start at the WGC-Mex­ico Cham­pi­onship.

“The World Golf Cham­pi­onships are all big events… all the best in the world will be there,” said Green.

His rise dur­ing the 2017 sea­son paved the way for him to fea­ture in the PGA TOUR’s events across Asia last fall, namely the CIMB Clas­sic in Malaysia, CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES in South Korea and WGC-HSBC Cham­pi­ons in China. And the Malaysian said those events “opened” his eyes to top-level golf which he be­lieves will make him a bet­ter golfer.

“Play­ing in the WGC opened my eyes as well as play­ing in the CIMB and CJ too,” Green said. “I know what to ex­pect, I know what to do. You’ll get all the good guys in the top events, so I just hope to use th­ese events to bet­ter my­self.”

Ki­radech, Asia’s No. 1 in 2013, is keen to lift his game a notch higher, which means im­prov­ing on his WGC record and ul­ti­mately play­ing his way onto the PGA TOUR. In eleven starts, Ki­radech’s best is a T18 at the 2016 WGCDell Tech­nolo­gies Match Play, and he hopes his ap­pear­ance at the WGC-Mex­ico Cham­pi­onship will see a break­through.

“It is fun to have the op­por­tu­nity to play in big tour­na­ments. Be­ing the first World Golf Cham­pi­onships event of the year, I will be very mo­ti­vated to pro­duce a strong per­for­mance in Mex­ico, and hope­fully, I can chal­lenge for the ti­tle,” said Ki­radech, who made a welcome re­turn into the world’s top-50 fol­low­ing five top10 fin­ishes at the end of last year.

All eyes will surely be on Ki­radech, Li and Green as they at­tempt to fol­low in Mat­suyama’s foot­steps and con­quer the world in Mex­ico City. The golf­ing world awaits with bated breath.

Aphibarn­rat Ki­radech, Asia’s No. 1 in 2013, is keen to lift his game a notch higher and im­prove on his WGC record

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