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Asian Order of Merit heading for the wire

The UBS Hong Kong Open is looming as a pivotal moment in the battle for the Asian Order of Merit title.

Next month's US$1.2 million tournament is one of just four ranking events remaining on this year's Asian Tour and - as the penultimate tournament on the calendar - could well be the deciding ground in the battle between Thai stars Thaworn Wiratchant and Thongchai Jaidee.

Thaworn leads the prize money table with season earnings of US$451,920 but Thongchai, the reigning Order of Merit champion, closed the gap with his third-place finish in the Double A International Open in Rayong, Thailand, at the weekend.

Thongchai took his season's total to US$386,120 to turn up the heat on his compatriot, who finished joint 18th in Rayong. With India's Jyoti Randhawa a distant third on $223,660.00, the Order of Merit race has turned into a head-to-head duel between the two Thais.

"The UBS Hong Kong Open is always one of the highlights of the season and the fact that the Order of Merit could be up for grabs as well only adds to the excitement," said Martin Capstick, vice-president of sales and marketing, Asia-Pacific, for event promoter Parallel Media Asia. "It's shaping up as a fantastic tournament."

Thongchai could have closed the gap even more at the Double A International Open but for a birdie putt that lipped out on the final hole, costing him the chance to join Thailand's Chinarat Phadungsil and India's Shiv Kapur in the playoff.

"I hit a good putt but the ball turned right to left instead of left to right which I had thought," said a rueful Thongchai.

Amateur Chinarat, the world junior champion, went on to win on the second extra hole, making history in the process. At 17 years and five days, he became the Asian Tour's youngest ever winner, eclipsing Korea's Kim Dae Sub, who won the 1998 Korean Open, by 78 days. He also became only the third amateur to win a title in Asia.

The next ranking event on the Asian Tour calendar is the Carlsberg Masters Vietnam on November 17-20 followed by the Volvo China Open.

The UBS Hong Kong Open will be held at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling on December 1-4 before the season finishes the following weekend with the Volvo Masters of Asia in Thailand.

November 8, 2005

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