Tour set for 2013 season opener

Khon Kaen, Thailand, February 13: Some of the most outstanding prospects in the region will pit their skills against Asian number one Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand at the Singha Esan Open, the season-opening event on the ASEAN PGA Tour, this week.

Indonesia’s Rory Hie, third last year, Annop Tangkamolprasert of Thailand, winner of the Gowa Classic in Indonesia last November, and fast-rising Singaporean Choo Tze Huang are amongst the young guns looking to shoot down former champion Thaworn, the Masters-bound 46-year-old who lifted four international titles in a quite extraordinary 2012.

Filipino Antonio Lascuna, victorious in the season-ending Sabah Masters last month, decorated Thai Prayad Marksaeng, like Thaworn a past winner of the Singha Esan Open, and countryman Wisut Artjanawat, the 2011 ASEAN PGA Tour number one, are also in the strong field at Singha Park Golf Club from February 14-17.

Former Thai tennis star Paradorn Srichaphan will bring a touch of celebrity to the US$100,000 tournament as he attempts to gain traction on the fairways.

“After retiring from tennis, I think I can be competitive in another sport and I have chosen golf,” said the 33-year-old former world number nine before his tournament debut last month.

Paradorn, who is from Khon Kaen, has accepted an invitation to compete as an amateur in the Singha Esan Open which is joint sanctioned by the ASEAN PGA Tour and the All Thailand Golf Tour.

Gunn Charoenkul won the title last year by beating highly rated Malaysian Nicholas Fung in a playoff and victory opened new doors for the talented 21-year-old Thai.

He grabbed the opportunities with both hands and has playing privileges on both OneAsia and the Asian Tour this year.

“Winning the Singha Esan Open was a big thing for me,” said Gunn, who is pursuing a university education in tandem with playing tournament golf. “I got into events I would not have got into otherwise.”

He gained his OneAsia card by finishing second on the ASEAN PGA Tour Order of Merit and winnings of US$60,600 for joint 24th spot in the US$6 million Barclays Singapore Open – a tournament he qualified for due to his ASEAN ranking – saw him climb comfortably into the top-60 on the Asian Tour.

Gunn has reluctantly pulled out of his title defence due to exam commitments  at Bangkok University where he is studying for a business degree.

The ASEAN PGA Tour will stage a record 12 tournaments worth more than US$1 million in 2013 with the added incentive of OneAsia cards going to the top five finishers on the Order of Merit.