Image from Asian Tour
CHOI HAS DUAL MISSION AT MAYBANK MALAYSIAN OPEN
Korea’s K.J. Choi is eyeing victory at the US$2 million Maybank Malaysian Open starting on Thursday to complete a grand double in the country and also enhance his Masters Tournament aspirations.
The Asian Tour honorary member, who is a seven-time US PGA Tour winner, was victorious when he last visited Malaysia in October and feels right at home at the magnificent Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club, this week’s venue.
Choi is confident he can enjoy a good week in the co-sanctioned Asian Tour and European Tour event to boost his chances of returning into the world’s top-50 and qualify for the Masters Tournament in April.
But standing in his way are the likes of two-time Maybank Malaysian Open winner Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand, former Ryder Cup star Darren Clarke, defending champion Anthony Kang of the United States, Japanese star Shingo Katayama, Sweden’s Daniel Chopra and India’s Arjun Atwal.
“It is very good to be back. I feel the love already and I’m having a good time right now and I’m going to enjoy the rest of the week,” said Choi.
“I feel that my fitness is coming back. It has been a slower start than what I expected because my shots have improved but it is progressing tremendously on a week-to-week basis. I have big expectations in the upcoming tournaments.”
Choi, nicknamed “The Tank” for his solid built, last played in the Malaysian Open in 1999 but won the Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia last year for his first Asian Tour victory outside of Korea.
It helped end his season on a high note as his form dipped in America, which saw his world ranking drop to his current 96th place, having been in the top-10 in 2007. This year, the signs have been positive as he has made all five cuts on the PGA Tour and knows that the time is ripe for him to snatch another win in Malaysia.
“Two years ago, I was trying to lose weight but I think it didn’t work to what I had planned out. I have been working with a new trainer and I feel my body condition has improved. This has increased my flexibility and I’m hitting my shots longer than ever, so from this point on I feel really comfortable,” said the Korean star.
“I’m not ruling it out at all (qualifying for the Masters). I still have a few tournaments left where hopefully I can put myself in a position to qualify. But it is promising because I’m playing better and I have a lot to expect for,” added Choi, who has featured at Augusta National for the last seven editions and finished third in 2004.
Reigning Maybank Malaysian Open champion Kang, who ended an eight-year title drought last season, knows he has to shift into top gear for a successful defence. “It’s been hit and miss in terms of performance but the most gratifying aspect of winning the tournament last year was that it opened up a lot of doors for me. I haven’t been scoring as well as I would like but I see a lot of positive signs in my game and I’m really excited about this year, including this tournament,” he said.
It feels like a homecoming of sort for Chopra, who cut his professional teeth in Malaysia during the 1990s. He has won several local events, including the Malaysian PGA Championship, and was happy to feature in his first Maybank Malaysian Open since his last appearance in 2003.
“I remember playing the Open as an amateur and just remembering how big a tournament it was and seeing all the famous professionals around the world. So I have fond memories of it and I have always enjoyed playing in Asia,” said Chopra, who celebrated the arrival of twins (a boy and a girl) last month.
“I haven’t been playing well (this season) but I haven’t really been a fast starter except when I won in 2008. But I feel it is coming back together. With the warm weather, your body and your swing start to loosen up and your ball starts to go as far as you are accustomed to hitting it. I’m starting to feel good again.”
Flamboyant Japanese star Katayama arrived for his press conference today sporting a new look. He has discarded his trademark cowbow hat and has now opted for the more fashionable pork-pie hat.
“This is the new Shingo,” he laughed. “It’s the first time I’m wearing a pork-pie hat. I wore the cowboy hat for 10 years. It’s finished.
“I’m looking forward to this week. It’s very cold in Japan right now and it’s nice and hot here. It’s my first tournament of the year but I’m really prepared to play,” said Katayama, who has won 26 titles in Japan and finished tied seventh in last year’s Maybank Malaysian Open.