India's Lahiri to lead in-form cast of Asian Tour stars at CIMB Classic

Aniban Lahiri 05 WWHSM 180914Kuala Lumpur: Indian star Anirban Lahiri will lead an in-form cast of Asian Tour stars at the US$7 million CIMB Classic which starts on Thursday.

The current Asian Tour number one will be joined by Australia’s Scott Hend, who won his seventh Asian Tour title a fortnight ago, Andrew Dodt and India’s S.S.P. Chawrasia at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club (KLGCC) West course.

Exciting young talents Richard T. Lee of Canada, Paul Peterson of the United States and Cameron Smith of Australia, who finished tied fifth at the CIMB Classic last year, will also feature in the event sanctioned by the Asian Tour and PGA TOUR.

Malaysia’s Danny Chia, who ended a 13-year title drought at the Mercuries Taiwan Masters earlier this month, and veterans Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand and Singaporean Mardan Mamat, who have a combined total of 14 Asian Tour titles, also qualified for the CIMB Classic as the leading 10 players on the Order of Merit as of Sunday.

Local talents Ben Leong and Arie Irawan will also be part of the elite field which has attracted a stellar line-up including Major champions Ernie Els of South Africa, Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner of the United States.

World number 37 Lahiri, who finished tied seventh in Hong Kong last week, is hoping to maintain his pursuit of the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit crown where he currently leads with a season haul of US$1,060,684.

“This week is critical. That’s probably the week that’s going to decide a large extent how the rest of the Order of Merit chase runs out so hopefully I can play well. I’ve won at the KLGCC course earlier this year so that will be a huge motivation for me,” said Lahiri, who is now the third player to earn more than US$1 million in a single season on the Asian Tour.

Big-hitting Hend, who played on the PGA TOUR in 2004 and 2005, will make his third appearance at the CIMB Classic and hopes to extend his fine form which saw him win the Venetian Macao Open two weeks ago.

“I’m hoping that it will be a freakish week where you win the tournament and all of the sudden, you’ll be playing in the U.S. It’s all our dreams to try to be exempt back in the U.S. That’s what I’m trying to do,” said Hend, who is currently ranked second on the Order of Merit with US$438,781.

“KLGCC is a positional golf course. It’s a war of attrition. It gets so hot out there and you’ve got to manage yourself well and stop your head from exploding in the heat. If I do the right things there, I feel I’ll have a chance,” he added.

The 29-year-old Dodt won his second Asian Tour title in Thailand earlier in February and is relishing the challenge of playing against many of the world’s best golfers.

“For me, it feels like a Major. It’s my biggest event of the year and I’ve got to treat it like that. I’ve got to put in my preparation for it and get the best result that week,” said Dodt, who made his debut in the CIMB Classic in 2010.

Chawrasia will draw confidence from a tied-10th result at the Malaysian Open earlier this year, which was also played at the KLGCC West Course. He hopes his course knowledge will give him the extra edge this week.

“It’s good for Asian Tour players to have the opportunity to play in the CIMB Classic. I think it’s a good chance to get into the PGA TOUR but you’ve got to play well,” said the three-time Asian Tour winner.

“I’ve played many times at the KLGCC and I feel comfortable on the course. You’ve got to hit it straight and putt well. There’s a combination of long and short holes, it’s a good course set up that doesn’t only favour the long hitters,” added Chawrasia.