2013 Review: A truly mega season

Fri 24 Jan 2014

2013 Review: A truly mega season

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The Asian Tour and its starry cast put on a big show in 2013.
During a year where the region’s premier Tour celebrated its milestone 10th season, it also marked the ascension to number one for burly Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat who was crowned the new Order of Merit champion after an emphatic season.
The talented Kiradech wowed fans around the world with his exciting and adrenaline pumping attacking style of play to succeed compatriot Thaworn Wiratchant as the top Asian golfer.
The 24-year-old Thai is certainly a beneficiary of the growing success of the Asian Tour, which was launched as a player-led organisation in 2004 with the mission to enhance the careers of professional golfers in the region.
In 2013, the Tour inaugurated three new tournaments – the Solaire Open in the Philippines, Chiangmai Golf Classic presented by PTT and Resorts World Manila Masters – while the Indonesia Open returned onto the Schedule after a three-year lapse. Saxo Capital Markets and Subway also signed up as Tour Partner and Sponsor respectively.
With over US$44 million in prize money on offer in 2013, Kiradech, nicknamed ‘Arm’ by his family and friends, took home the largest chunk with over US$1.12 million in winnings, thanks to one victory and five other top-five finishes.
The big man claimed his second Asian Tour title at the rain-shortened Maybank Malaysian Open and made the world sit up and take notice of prodigious talents with his joint third finish in the star-studded CIMB Classic in Malaysia, which was co-sanctioned with the PGA Tour.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand
‘Arm’ was equally impressive on the Major stage where he finished tied 25th in the US PGA Championship and also enjoyed a share of fifth place at the ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf in Melbourne. Those high finishes pushed him up to 59th place in the final 2013 Official World Golf Ranking.
“For me, my first Tour is the Asian Tour. I started from here, I was born from here. If I get onto the PGA Tour or European Tour, I will always remember what the Asian Tour has done for me,” said Kiradech, who is the second player after Jeev Milkha Singh to break the million dollar mark in earnings in a single season.
Big-hitting Scott Hend of Australia pushed Kiradech in the Order of Merit race, thanks to three magnificent victories at the Chiangmai Golf Classic, Venetian Macau Open and Mercuries Taiwan Masters.
The former PGA Tour regular, who took his career tally to five in Asia, has no regrets switching his playing focus to the Asian Tour.
“The Asian Tour has been a fantastic place for me to be in. This is the Tour of the region and in my eyes it is the only Tour in the region,” said Hend, who began his career on the Asian Tour in 2007.
“It is a fantastic breeding ground of the young players and the middle aged players such as myself. Everyone wants to come out and forge a good living and play in good tournaments and try to move to the next level. This is a great place to be and a place to play on.”
Thai veteran star Thaworn Wiratchant, the 2012 number one, wrote more records by claiming an unprecedented 16th victory at the Yeangder Tournament Players Championship in Taipei where he defeated Qualifying School winner Chan Kim of the United States.
“I’m very proud I can still win at the age of 46. I honestly didn’t think that I could win because Kim is such a powerful golfer,” said Thaworn, who also won the inaugural Yeangder TPC in 2010.
Rising stars Pariya Junhasavasdikul of Thailand, Siddikur Rahman of Bangladesh and Indian duo Anirban Lahiri and Gaganjeet Bhullar were also on target as they showcased the immense talent pool available in Asia.
Lahiri successfully defended his SAIL-SBI Open title at the Delhi Golf Club by defeating young gun Rashid Khan on the first play-off hole. The victory ignited a fine run for Lahiri who ended the year with three other runner-up results and four other top-10s as he finished in a career high third position on the Order of Merit.
“This is probably my most consistent year. My game has become much sharper than it was. Maturity will come I guess. Six years on Tour, the experience should be there, so hopefully I draw on it and win a few more events,” said Lahiri.
Anirban Lahiri of India Anirban Lahiri of India
Pariya and Siddikur made emotional returns onto the winners’ enclosure with victories at the Worldwide Holdings Selangor Masters and Hero Indian Open respectively, three years after claiming their maiden Asian Tour titles.
It was a bumpy road for both as Pariya fended off a strong challenge from close friend Baek Seuk-hyun of Korea while Siddikur overcame a nervy final round to win by one shot at the Delhi Golf Club.
“After winning in Brunei (2010), I was really hungry to win more tournaments but it didn’t happen. However, I still remained confident and I told myself that a big victory is coming my way,” said Siddikur.
After a runner-up finish at the Avantha Masters early in the season, Bhullar suffered a dip in form, including a last-place finish at the World Cup. But the 25-year-old showed his growing maturity by winning in the following week’s Indonesia Open, leading impressively from start to finish, to claim a fifth Asian Tour title.
“I haven’t had much success this season but I know my game was up there and winning is just a matter of time. I waited so long for my fifth win and this is my 10th consecutive event. Mentally, I was exhausted but Indonesia is one of my favourite countries as I won my first title on the Asian Tour here,” said Bhullar.
Thai duo Chawalit Plaphol and Prayad Marksaeng, Wade Ormsby of Australia and Lin Wen-tang of Chinese Taipei were all victorious as well, winning the Zaykaybar Myanmar Open presented by Alpine, Queen’s Cup and King’s Cup in Thailand, Panasonic Open India and Solaire Open in the Philippines respectively.
If there was an award in 2013 for the most gracious winner on the Asian Tour, it would go to Liang Wen-chong. The Chinese ace won the inaugural Resorts World Manila Masters and donated half his winnings of US$135,000 to victims of the devastating Typhoon Haiyan.
“Before coming over to the Philippines, I was really affected by what I saw of the damage and victims suffering from the aftermath of the typhoon on television. I’ve decided to do my part and support the relief efforts,” said Liang, the first Chinese to win the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit in 2007.
Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand
No fewer than 14 players who went through the rigours of the 2013 Qualifying School enjoyed rewarding seasons as they ended the year inside the top-60 on the Order of Merit to earn full playing status in 2014.
Thai ace Thongchai Jaidee produced a stellar season in Europe, finishing a career high ninth in the final Race to Dubai rankings following runner-up finishes at the BMW Masters and Volvo World Match Play which helped him end the year in 46th place on the world rankings. The three-time Asian Tour number one was also named playing Captain for Team Asia for the inaugural EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM to face Europe in Malaysia in March, 2014.
Kyi Hla Han, Chairman, Asian Tour, saluted the fine performances of Asia’s stars in commemoration with the Tour’s landmark 10th season.
“The continued rise in playing standards amongst our players has been fantastic to watch, with Kiradech Aphibarnrat leading the way with so many wonderful performances throughout 2013,” said Han, himself a former Asian number.
“We were delighted to welcome several new events onto our Schedule in what was a milestone year with our 10th season. The playing opportunities provided to our players saw a number of great performances including those three wins by Scott Hend and victories by Gaganjeet Bhullar, Siddikur Rahman, Anirban Lahiri and Pariya Junhasavasdikul.
“In our 2013 season, earnings for our players was highest in the past five years for the top-10, top-30 and the top-60 players on the final Order of Merit and the second highest earnings year ever, only being surpassed by the performance and earnings in 2008,” he added.
Note: This article has been reproduced from the 2013 Asian Tour Year in Review publication, which will be available from the end of February.