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Golf: Lahiri top seed in Thailand Classic; Thongchai leads local charge

World No. 37 Anirban Lahiri is the top-ranked player at this week’s True Thailand Classic. Photos: Asian Tour.

World No. 37 Anirban Lahiri is the top-ranked player at this week’s True Thailand Classic. Photos: Asian Tour.

February 11, 2015: Standing proudly above some of the European Tour’s biggest names, India’s Anirban Lahiri is the highest-ranked player at this week’s $2 million True Thailand Classic in Hua Hin, where he will tee off as the World No. 37 after winning the Maybank Malaysian Open last Sunday.

 

Lahiri earned his first European Tour title in the first of three successive events co-sanctioned by the Asian and European circuits and also became Asia’s second-ranked player, lagging behind only PGA Tour star Hideki Matsuyama, the Japan No. 1 and World No. 14.

 

The India No. 1’s lofty status ranks him above an impressive selection of European Tour stalwarts, who will be among those teeing off at Black Mountain Golf Club in Hua Hin on Thursday.

 

Spanish legend Miguel Angel Jimenez, 51, and Denmark No. 1 Thomas Bjorn, 43, have won 21 and 15 European Tour titles respectively and competed in multiple Ryder Cups, but this week look up to Lahiri from their rankings of 45 and 38.

 

Thongchai Jaidee, the 13-time Asian Tour winner and six-time victor on The European Tour, is now ranked No. 39, so dropped to become Asia’s No. 3 after Lahiri’s Sunday success.

 

Lahiri, 27, began this year’s Asian Tour season in spectacular style in Kuala Lumpur, but he was simply carrying on a run of tremendous form of last year, having finished second on the Asian Tour Order of Merit and been voted the circuit’s Players’ Player of the Year.

 

“It’s a very exciting period for me right now. I’m playing well and one of the many goals that I’ve set for myself is to crack the top 50 and that win last week has made it possible,” said Lahiri, who has now won six Asian Tour titles, including three in the last 10 months.

 

The Indian is now determined to further scale the ladder, with the Thailand Classic sitting at the heart of three straight co-sanctioned events in Asia, concluding with next week’s Hero Indian Open.

 

“I had a big boost in my world ranking after Malaysia, but the next two weeks here and in India are going to be crucial for me to play well. It’ll seal up my place in the Masters and a host of other major events,” said Lahiri, who is targeting a fourth major appearance.

 

“I’ve got a lot to play for. Last week was great, but these two weeks are equally important for me to keep the momentum going in the right direction.”

 

Sweden’s Johan Edfors, Thailand No. 1 Thongchai Jaidee and 15-time European Tour winner Thomas Bjorn of Denmark take part in a Muay Thai clinic at Black Mountain Golf Club in Hua Hin.

Sweden’s Johan Edfors, Thailand No. 1 Thongchai Jaidee and 15-time European Tour winner Thomas Bjorn of Denmark take part in a Muay Thai clinic at Black Mountain Golf Club in Hua Hin.

Thongchai, 45, is also keen to impress as he makes a rare appearance in his homeland, having only competed in Thailand once last year. The country’s No. 1 believes he’s on the cusp of finding his best form and said that the Black Mountain layout would favour the big hitters.

 

“I’m playing pretty consistently, but I’m not at my best yet. The course condition is superb this week and the greens are super fast, so good putters have a good chance of winning this tournament,” Thongchai said.

 

“There’s no rough, so it will come down to shot placement and the longer hitters will have the best chance. They’ll be able to reach all the par-fives in two, so every par-five is a good birdie opportunity.”

 

Bjorn is also among those with victory in his eyes as he seeks a first European Tour win since 2013, but was slightly worried about the greens.

 

“It’s an interesting golf course in the sense that you feel as if there are a lot of opportunities out there, but it has the most interesting set of greens I’ve seen for a while – very fast and tricky,” he said. “The scoring will be good, but you will have to play a lot with your brain; you can’t be too aggressive because you’ll leave yourself some horrendous putts.”

 

Bjorn said he had special motivation for this week, having been part of the generation of European Tour stars leading from the front as the circuit expanded its network of events into Asia and around the globe.

 

“Winning around the world is what makes you a truly global player and I would love to add Thailand to the list of countries where I have won. Every player wants to win every tournament they play in and I am no different. It would be great to get my name on the Thailand Classic trophy,” Bjorn said.

 

“We had some very successful tournaments in Thailand in the past and Thailand was a big part of when we extended the Tour outside Europe, so it’s great to be back here.”

 

True Corporation recently announced a three-year title sponsorship of the Thailand Classic, Thailand’s first co-sanctioned tournament by the Asian and European Tours in eight years.

 

Source: Asian Tour (www.asiantour.com); Editing by SportAsia

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