Photo - Asian Tour
THONGCHAI MAPS OUT DEFENCE STRATEGY AHEAD OF BALLANTINE’S CHAMPIONSHIP
Jeju Island, Korea: Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee returns to the scene of one of his memorable triumphs and vows to repeat that historic feat at the Ballantine’s Championship again this week.
The defending champion clinched his unprecedented 12th Asian Tour title at the Pinx Golf Club last season when he battled through unusually cold and windy conditions to triumph in a dramatic three-way playoff for the biggest win of his career.
After shrugging off a niggling elbow injury that forced him to withdraw midway through the second round of the Masters a fortnight ago, Thongchai has been given a clean bill of health and is determined to put up a strong defence for his title at the €2.2 million (approximately US$2.9 million) showpiece sanctioned by the Asian Tour, European Tour and the Korea PGA.
“I am looking forward to the Ballantine's Championship. It was my biggest career win ever, not just because of the prize money but also the points which helped me reach the world's top 50,” said Thongchai of his win last year where he fired a two-under-par 70 on the final day to enter a playoff against Spain’s Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño and local hero Kang Sung Hoon. He then sank a six-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole to claim the title.
Having emerged victorious at the Pinx Golf Club last year, Thongchai knows that the key to victory again would be to tame the treacherous par-three holes again.
“The par-three holes can be very difficult because they are very long and narrow. They have a lot of water on the greens and can be quite hard to play especially when the wind starts to blow,” said the three-time Asian Tour Order of Merit winner.
“If you can get the ball onto the greens especially on holes two, five and 17 and make good putts there, you’ll stand a good chance of winning the Ballantine’s Championship,” added the Thai ace.
Thongchai who finished tied 13th at the British Open last year has enjoyed a strong showing on the global stage this season so far by reaching the quarter final stage of the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship where he lost to eventual winner Ian Poulter of England.
The Thai’s title defence will now be put to test by some of the game’s elite which includes Sweden’s Henrik Stenson who had six European Tour victories to his name before winning the biggest title of his career last May at The Players Championship on the PGA Tour.
Although the course is famed for its challenging cold and windy conditions, the world number 17 believes that he is experienced enough to play well and get a good result this week.
“The key thing about playing in the wind is to always control your ball flight and I've had lots of good finishes in the past in such difficult conditions. I think I'm reasonably good at grinding it out and playing well in tough conditions. I expect it to be a bit hard at times, but as long as it's not as cold as it was last year, it should be okay,” said Stenson.
The third edition of the Ballantine’s Championship will be headlined by other marquee players that include three-time Major winner Ernie Els of South Africa, who recently won back-to-back titles on the PGA Tour, Korean star Y.E. Yang, Asia’s first Major champion and Korean-American Anthony Kim who finished third at the Masters.