True Thailand Classic: Thongchai ready to grind out win

Thongchai Jaidee True Thailand ClassicHua Hin, Thailand: Thai ace Thongchai Jaidee hopes to defy the lingering effects of a viral fever to win the True Thailand Classic presented by Chang which starts on Thursday.

The triple Asian Tour number one is the top contender to lift the US$1.75 million co-sanctioned Asian Tour and European Tour tournament at Black Mountain Golf Club as he is the highest ranked golfer in the field.

Twelve months ago, the 46-year-old Thongchai, who is ranked 37th in the world, finished tied second behind inaugural champion Andrew Dodt of Australia and he hopes to improve by one rung at a venue where he owns a plush villa that overlooks the ninth green.

Like Thongchai, Dodt is not physically at his best after coming down with flu upon his arrival at Hua Hin but the powerful Aussie is up for the challenge to retain his title against the likes of Thai star Kiradech Aphibarnrat, fellow Australian Scott Hend and veteran Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Veteran Thongchai was admitted into a Bangkok hospital for three days after pulling out from the third round of a Malaysian event three weeks ago and also skipped the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship in the United States last week.

“I want to get my feeling back. Last week I rested and started to practice. Hopefully I feel better. I think I’m 70 or 80% now, but I want to be 100%. It’s bad when you get sick,” said Thongchai, a 13-time winner on the Asian Tour.

He is adamant to rectify his record at the True Thailand Classic where a three-putt on the final green denied him the chance to force a play-off with Dodt.

“I had a good chance to win but unfortunately it wasn’t good enough with the putting. I know the field his quite strong and I’ll try my best. I played nine holes on Monday and Tuesday and 18 holes today. I’m practising well, hitting it well and putting well. But in the tournament it can be different.”

While the home fans will be expecting him to live up to his favourite tag and win on Sunday, Thongchai said it was an open field. “In golf, anything can happen. Some guy can hit top form and beat the field. Every week, I play my own game and play the golf course. You have to have a perfect week to win. If someone shoots a low score, you can’t do anything. Anyone can win a tournament here,” he said.

Dodt’s younger brother Anthony is caddying for the first time as he attempts to successfully defend a title following two previous defences. The Aussie hopes another good night’s sleep will help him overcome his flu.

“There are a lot of good memories. I remember almost every shot and a lot of them were really good. It’s nice to come back to somewhere that you’ve played well before,” said Dodt.

“24 hours ago, I wasn’t very good. I’ve improved slightly. This morning was a test, to see if I could get through the pro-am. I’m not feeling the greatest but you know what they say about ‘beware the sick golfer’ and I hope to use that to my advantage.”

After taking over 22 hours to fly back from the U.S., Kiradech is hoping to use his big-hitting game to claim a first ever Asian Tour victory on home soil. He was top-10 at the True Thailand Classic last season and also won an Asian Development Tour event at Black Mountain.

“I’ve got a lot of air miles,” joked the 26-year-old. “I’m a bit tired and still having jetlag. But it’s great to be back to play in your home country and to play in front of your fans, family and especially my wife who will come this week.

“I think she’ll come on Sunday as she knows about the prize money and she’ll come to collect the money! It’s an honour to come back to Black Mountain as I’ve played so well on this course.”

“Over here, you need good drives. If you hit good drives, you can make low scores and birdies. Some holes are quite narrow. But when you have the length, it’s a wedge into the greens. If you have short irons in, you have opportunities to have birdies.”