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Top Asian players get invites to Memorial

Asian Tour stalwarts Thongchai Jaidee and Zhang Lian-wei tee up in America this week with a mission to reinforce the region's rapid rise on the global stage.

Both players have been extended invitations to play in The Memorial Tournament, a US PGA Tour event hosted by golf great Jack Nicklaus, and following rapid strides made in recent times by Asian Tour members, Thongchai and Zhang will be looking to eclipse the likes Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh.

Nicklaus, arguably the best golfer of all time, was delighted that the Memorial Tournament's Captains Club had extended invites to Chinese number one Zhang and Thailand 's Thongchai, the current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader.

"I was pleased to hear that the Captains Club extended invitations to Zhang Lian-wei and Thongchai Jaidee for this year's Memorial Tournament. Both players are very talented and well-deserving of an opportunity to participate in the Memorial, and I think they will be wonderful additions to this year's field," said Nicklaus.

Zhang and Thongchai are the first players from their respective countries to win European Tour titles, with the Chinese ace beating Els in the Caltex Masters Presented by Carlsberg in Singapore at the 72nd hole last year and Thongchai winning the Carlsberg Malaysian Open in February.

The self-taught Chinese ace made more golfing history in April when he was extended an invitation to play in the Masters, only to miss the halfway cut by one shot on his debut. Thongchai, meanwhile, has enjoyed a great year so far with a win in Myanmar and four other top-10s, including a tied fifth finish alongside world number one Woods in the Dubai Desert Classic in March.

"Zhang has proven himself numerous times on the world stage, winning four times over the last three years, becoming the first Chinese player to win a European Tour event, and then earning the distinction of being the first Chinese golfer invited to the Masters.

"Thongchai is enjoying a wonderful season, with two wins already, including his victory in the Malaysian Open that made him the first Thai winner on the European Tour. He has also been very consistent over his young career. He's not only had 30 top-10 finishes over the previous five years, he has now won at least once in five straight seasons," said Nicklaus.

The man nicknamed the Golden Bear is a strong advocate that golf is a global game and believes that the addition of the Asian stars will reflect positively on the Memorial Tournament.

"Golf is definitely a global game, and the Memorial Tournament strongly believes in showcasing the world's finest players. We not only think Zhang Lian-wei and Thongchai Jaidee reflect well on the success of the Asian Tour, but they represent the overall depth of talent on the international stage," said Nicklaus.

Korea 's Choi Kyung-ju, who cut his professional teeth in Asia before finding fame in America with two US PGA Tour titles, is delighted to see his peers being extended invitations to the Memorial. Third in the recent Masters, Choi is an inspiration to Asian Tour players.

"I feel really good to know that Zhang and Thongchai will be at the Memorial. I'm happy for them as we are old friends. It is tremendous to see that they are getting out to America and it will be a wonderful opportunity for them to showcase their talents," said Choi.

Asian Tour Chairman Kyi Hla Han is confident that Zhang and Thongchai will perform well against the best names in the game.

"Both players have enjoyed strong seasons with Thongchai breaking into the top-100 in the world ranking after a great run at the start of the year which included two wins. Zhang continues to break new ground for Asia and China and his talent is immense. Their invitations are further recognition to the growth of the Asian Tour and our members," said Han.

Zhang, who finished tied 47th in the FedEx St Jude Classic on Sunday, believes he will be more relaxed when he tees up for The Memorial.

"During the Masters, I was very nervous and struggled to cope with the playing conditions. I am hopeful that my experience on the US PGA Tour will be a lot better and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to play with some top players," said Zhang.

Arjun Atwal of India , last season's Asian number one, and Ted Purdy are also in the elite field this week. Both players have exemptions on the PGA Tour.

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