Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: A star-laden Asian Tour cast, spearheaded by reigning number one Scott Hend, will shoot for glory at the Maybank Championship at Saujana Golf and Country Club next week.
Big-hitting Hend, who became the first Australian to win the Order of Merit crown last season, will be joined by nine other former number ones, including Thai duo Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, American David Lipsky, India’s Anirban Lahiri, Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa and Arjun Atwal, China’s Liang Wen-chong and Filipino swinger Juvic Pagunsan.
Over 40 Asian Tour champions with over 100 tournament victories accumulated will also tee up for the US$3 million showpiece, which is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.
Such is the attraction of the Maybank Championship, which is celebrating its second edition, that the marquee event has attracted all the top-10 players of the current Asian Tour’s Order of Merit and also last year’s final top-10 on the Merit list.
Hend is tipped to contend for the spectacular Maybank trophy sculpted in the shape of a tiger head which is part of its corporate emblem. Last year, he won twice at the Thailand Classic and Queen’s Cup and savoured his rise to the top of the Asian golf pinnacle with over US$1 million in earnings.
Since joining the Asian Tour in 2007, the 44-year-old has become the most successful international golfer in the region following an impressive haul of nine career victories. “I'm looking forward to competing at Saujana next week. I've heard a lot about the venue and it's also a great tournament for us. It would be fantastic to contend again for a win,” said Hend.
“The Asian Tour was a great place for me to be at a time where I had nothing and I came to Q-School and finished runner-up to Ben Leong (of Malaysia). And from then on, I went to Pakistan, finished second and all of a sudden hit greater heights and climbed my way up to top-60 in the world. Hopefully from here, I’ll get on with it,” said Hend.
Lahiri, Asia’s number one in 2015, has always enjoyed competing on Malaysian soil with one victory previously along with numerous other top-10s. Together with a crop of rising Indian stars such as Gaganjeet Bhullar, Chikkarangappa S. and Shubhankar Sharma, the Indian contingent is expected to feature prominent on the leaderboard at Saujana, which last hosted a major event in 2009.
Current Order of Merit leader Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand will be one to watch following his outstanding victory at the Singapore Open two weeks ago where he became the second oldest champion on Tour at the age of 50 years and 357 days. The veteran Thai star, who holds 10 career wins in Asia, has finished tied second previously in Saujana in 2009.
The ultra-talented Jeunghun Wang of Korea, who won the Qatar Masters last weekend and was third on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit last season, will also be expected to challenge for the Maybank Championship title along with close friend Soomin Lee, who let victory slip from his grasp at last year’s inaugural Maybank Championship.
China’s Wu Ashun and Li Haotong, both winners on the European Tour and were joint runners-up at the World Cup of Golf last November, will also feature in Malaysia.
Saujana also hosted the World Amateur Championship previously which holds fond memories for three-time Asian Tour winner Angelo Que of the Philippines.
“We’ve played the course three times previously and as an amateur as well. I’ve heard they’ve some changes to certain holes. I’ve got some good memories there. At the World Amateur, our finished third and I also finished third in the individual category.
“It’s a course where you have to grind out a score and be patient which is my game. Hopefully it’ll be the week where I can win. I’ve won in Malaysia before (Selangor Masters) and a lot of people know me there and the fans are so welcoming. I’m looking forward to it,” said Que.
The international stars who will feature in the Maybank Championship include title holder Marcus Fraser of Australia, who was second on the Asian Tour Order of Merit last year, reigning Masters Tournament champion Danny Willet and former Major winner Charl Schwartzel.