Sentosa, Singapore: EurAsia Cup stars led by K.T. Kim of Korea, who was ranked number one in Japan last season, will lead a truly strong line-up the inaugural Panasonic Open Golf Championship next week.
Kim represented Team Asia earlier this year in the defeat to Team Europe and he will be joined at the Chiba Country Club by teammates Shingo Katayama of Japan, Wu Ashun of China, Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand, Jeunghun Wang of Korea and Malaysian duo Danny Chia and Nicholas Fung.
Jeev Milkha Singh of India and Liang Wen-chong of China, the captain and vice-captain for Team Asia in the EurAsia Cup, will also feature in the 150 million (approximately 1.27 million) event sanctioned by the Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour.
Current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Marcus Fraser of Australia, Younghan Song of Korea, who won the season-opening SMCB Singapore Open and former Order of Merit champions Juvic Pagunsan of the Philippines and Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand are also in the elite field.
Yuta Ikeda, a 13-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, will spearhead the local challenge alongside Masahiro Kawamura, Masanori Kobayashi, Hiroyuki Fujita and Kenichi Kuboya, all proven champions in Japan.
Kim capped a sensational season in 2015, winning four times in Japan to qualify for the EurAsia Cup in January where he delivered one point for the team in the Ryder Cup-styled showdown.
Still seeking a first top-10 result following four events this year, Kim will be aiming to turn the corner in his chase for a first title of 2016 at the Panasonic Open Golf Championship.
A host of young stars including Miguel Tabuena of the Philippines, currently second on the Order of Merit, Natipong Srithong of Thailand, the 2015 Asian Tour Rookie of the Year, and Thitiphun Chuayprakong, winner of the Bashundhara Bangladesh Open, will also aim to make their presence felt at the Chiba course.
The 22-year-old Natipong, who is juggling between professional golf and his legal studies, won the Resorts World Manila Masters last November for his career breakthrough and finished 15th on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit.
The young Thai hopes to make a successful debut in the Land of the Rising Sun. “I’m excited to play in Japan. It will be my first time so I’m really looking forward to it. Hopefully the course will suit my game,” he said.
“Last year was a great year for me. It was so good to win my first Asian Tour tournament in my first year as a pro. Hopefully I can repeat my success again in 2016,” said Natipong.