KUALA LUMPUR: Carlsberg, the title sponsors of the US$1.1 million Malaysian Golf Open, have provided an added incentive for the 13-man strong local contingent who will tee off next week at The Mines Resort and Golf Club against a world-class field comprising Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington.
The best Malaysian finisher in the tournament, which will be held from Feb 20-23, will gain a special invite to play in the Nordic Open on the European Tour later this year.
The inaugural Nordic Open, scheduled from Aug 7-10 in Copenhagen, Denmark – the home of Carlsberg – is also backed by the Danish brewery company and will offer nearly US$1.5 million in prize money.
Newly-crowned Malaysian number one Rashid Ismail and Danny Chia, the country's first winner on the Asian PGA Tour, are the main hopes in the Carlsberg Malaysian Open, which is jointly sanctioned by the Asian PGA and European Tours.
Carlsberg Brewery Malaysia Berhad executive chairman Datuk Jorgen Bornhoft said: “We will extend a wild card to the leading Malaysian finisher at the Carlsberg Malaysian Open to play in one of Denmark's biggest sporting events.
“This is part of our strategy to support the development of Malaysian golfers.”
Rashid and company will aim to stamp their mark in an event which has not seen a local winner since its inauguration in 1962. The two players who have come closest to winning – M. Ramayah, third in 1980, and P. Gunasegaran, joint second in 1994 – will renew their love affair with the Malaysian Open.
Danny thanked Carlsberg for giving local golfers the chance to play in another European Tour event.
“This will create a tournament within a tournament for local players at the Malaysian Open,” he said.
He will be one of the country's best hopes for success after his historic win in the Taiwan Open last year, an achievement which has earned him a nomination for the 2003 Malaysian Sportsman of the Year award.
“I’m hitting the ball pretty good. I feel comfortable with my game right now and the work that I’ve done with Kel Llewellyn (his coach) has helped,” said Danny.
In fact, Danny will be a man on a mission next week. Since making his debut in the Malaysian Open as a professional in 1998, Danny has never played in all four rounds.
“I hope to rectify that record this year. However, I’m just aiming to play well and let everything take care of itself,” added Danny.
Rashid, who won five titles last season to unseat Danny as the local number one, is hoping to reproduce his winning form at the Open.
“Obviously, last year was my best as a professional and I hope to carry that form into the Malaysian Open.
“The national Open is certainly the main tournament that local pros look forward to each year. Although no Malaysian has done well since Gunasegaran's great run in 1994, we are hoping that things will change,” said Rashid.
The other Malaysian professionals who will have a crack at Asia’s richest national Open include S. Murthy, R. Nachimuthu, V. Arumugam, Mines Resort resident pro Zalizan Md and rookie Mohd Shaaban Hussin, the country’s former top ranked amateur.
National amateurs Shukree Othman, Faridil Atras, S. Sivachandran and Lim Eng Seng will also get the chance to rub shoulders with some of the world’s leading players.