PETALING JAYA: Current Malaysian number one Nicholas Fung and Danny Chia, who is making his comeback from injury after a hiatus of over six months, will be the local hopes in the season-ending Sabah Masters starting today, but all eyes will be on Thailand’s Kwanchai Tannin to see if he can become the first man to win three times in a season.
Kwanchai, who has already wrapped up the Asean PGA Tour Order of Merit title, triumphed in the Singha Pattaya Open and the PGM-Asean PGA Negri Sembilan Masters last year.
The Thai starts as one of the favourites and will tee off together with the Malaysian duo at the Sutera Harbour Golf and Country Club.
“I had a good break and I am feeling fresh,” said Kwanchai, who is the nephew of reigning Thailand Open champion Prayad Marksaeng.
“It is important for me to build on what I did last year and go on and improve,” said Kwanchai, once dubbed the new Boonchu Ruankgit, one of Thailand’s most revered golfers.
The 27-year-old leads the Merit list with unassailable earnings of US$34,426 (RM114,562), which is already a Tour record.
If he were to claim this week’s winners’ cheque of US$12,918 (RM42,988), he would set an impressive benchmark that his peers would be hard-pushed to surpass.
In 2013, he was also fourth in the Luang Prabang Laos Open and third in the Singha Chiangmai Open.
“My game has gotten better over the past few years. It was difficult when I first turned professional and it took time to get things correct. My confidence is now very good,” he added.
He turned professional in 2006 and recorded his maiden win on the Asean PGA Tour in the 2009 Mercedes-Benz Masters Indonesia.
The Thai star will become the third player from his country to win the Merit list after Namchok Tantipokhakul in 2009 and Wisut Artjanawat in 2011.
The Sabah Masters also features defending champion Antonio Lascuna from the Philippines, Singaporean No. 1 Mardan Mamat, beaten in a playoff last year, and Wisut, the winner in 2011.
Legendary Filipino Frankie Minoza will also take part as well as Malaysians Ben Leong and Airil Rizman, Singapore’s Choo Tze Huang and Koh Dengshan, and Filipinos Mars Pucay and Artemio Murakami.