Published on: Thursday, October 10, 2013
Kuala Lumpur: Thai star Kiradech Aphibarnrat will spearhead a power-packed Asian Tour line-up, including Malaysia's Nicholas Fung in the US$7 million CIMB Classic at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club from October 24-27.
Kiradech, the current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader will be amongst the leading 10 players from the region's premier tour to challenge 60 PGA Tour players including the likes of Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker and Ernie Els in the lucrative event sanctioned by PGA Tour and the Asian Tour.
The 24-year-old Kiradech represents a new breed of young Asian golfers who are strongly tipped to become world-beaters. Kiradech's confidence will be sky-high for the CIMB Classic as he triumphed in the Malaysian Open which was also staged at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club's West course in March this year. The burly Thai, one of the most exciting young players to emerge onto the scene, finished tied 21st in the inaugural CIMB Classic in 2010.
Top Malaysian-ranked golfer, Nicholas Fung will join fellow national golfer, Rashid Ismail, for the second Malaysian spot in the upcoming tournament. Fung, who came through the Asian Tour Qualifying School earlier this year, has enjoyed a good season on the Asian Development Tour (ADT) this year where he claimed his maiden title on home soil in June and secured five top-10 finishes. He is currently second on the ADT Order of Merit with a season's haul of US$35,740.
The complete field for the CIMB Classic will comprise 60 players from the PGA Tour, the top 10 available players from the Asian Tour Order of Merit and eight sponsor's exemptions.
The other Asian Tour qualifiers, based on the leading available 10 players from the Order of Merit, include newly crowned Mercuries Taiwan Masters champion Scott Hend of Australia, countryman Wade Ormsby, Thai veteran Prayad Marksaeng and American Berry Henson. India's Gaganjeet Bhullar, who is 25, the 26-year-old Anirban Lahiri and 31-year-old Shiv Kapur, who have a combined eight Asian Tour titles, Korea's Baek Seuk-hyun, who turns 23 this week, and the 28-year-old Siddikur of Bangladesh have all earned their prized spots in the fourth edition of the CIMB Classic following the conclusion of the Mercuries Taiwan Masters on Sunday.
Trailblazer Siddikur, the first Bangladeshi to win on the Asian Tour in 2010, will be making his fourth successive appearance at the CIMB Classic. He moved from 17th to ninth on the latest Order of Merit after finishing equal third in Taipei on Sunday.
"I'm really happy to qualify for the CIMB Classic again. I had a good outing in 2010 when I finished tied 11th and I hope to play well again later this month," said the Bangladeshi, who also recently qualified for the ISPS Handa World Cup of Golf.
Currently ranked second in Asia, big-hitting Hend, the first player to win multiple titles on the Asian Tour this season, is looking forward to teeing up in the CIMB Classic as he had previously featured on the PGA Tour in 2004 and 2005.
"The CIMB Classic is a chance for me to get back onto the PGA Tour," said Hend, referring to the fact that this year's winner will receive a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour as the CIMB Classic will be Asia's first official counting event for the FedEx Cup.
"All of us who are playing in that tournament have got through on our own merits.
It only takes one good week for us to make it. We know the course pretty well as we've played there a lot.
If we can have a good week, you'll see one of us play over there (PGA Tour) every week."
Thai-based Baek, currently sixth on the Order of Merit, said: "I'm really proud of myself.
A top-10 finish for me in Taipei is good. I didn't really want to think too much about the CIMB Classic this week but now that I'm in, I'm really happy."
Apart from a two-year exemption, the winner of the 2013 CIMB Classic will also earn a spot in the 2014 Masters Tournament.