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Thawon Wiratchant favourite for Brunei Open

Thailand 's Thaworn Wiratchant was not ready to tempt fate as he prepared for his latest title assault at the inaugural US$300,000 Brunei Open which begins on Thursday.

The Thai is presently the hottest player on the Asian Tour with two recent top-fives and a victory propelling him to the top of the Order of Merit for only the second time in his 10-year career.

With Brunei hosting its first ever professional tournament at the impressive Empire Hotel and Country Club, a strong field, which includes Asia 's winning Visa Dynasty Cup team members - Singapore 's Mardan Mamat, Filipino Angelo Que and India 's Amandeep Johl - will be looking to prevent Thaworn from extending his lead on the money list.

Such was the Thaworn's focus that he declined to hold the Brunei Open trophy in a photo shoot earlier this week to promote the Asian Tour's newest event, saying it was bad luck. "I want to hold the trophy only on Sunday," said Thaworn, who leads the merit list with US$326,229.

The challenging Jack Nicklaus-designed Empire course has received widespread praise from the players and could favour Thaworn's wonderful short game where he is regarded as one of the best putters in the business.

"I will try my best to win. I'm happy to be leading the Order of Merit but it's still a long way to go in the season. I'm working hard at my game and need to continuously improve. This course is hilly, and challenging. It'll be hard work," said the 38-year-old Thai, who has five wins in Asia .

Thaworn has played 13 events this year where he is 61-under-par to date, which is the lowest on Tour, and has also shot the most number of birdies, 188 to be the best amongst his peers.

Australian Terry Pilkadaris, one of the five top-10 players in the field this week along with compatriots Scott Barr and Marcus Both, is hoping that swing improvements will launch him into contention at the Brunei Open. He was disappointed to falter at several events this year and attributed swing faults for the poor finishes.

"I've not seen my swing coach Steve Brodie for nearly a year because of our Tour's busy schedule but got a bit of work done over the last few weeks. I was disappointed I didn't get over the finish line when I was in contention but I'm working at it now with Steve," said Pilkadaris, who won twice last season.

The 27-year-old Que will be looking to bounce back into form. One of Asia 's brightest stars following his maiden professional victory last November and then sinking the putt that won the Dynasty Cup outright for Asia in April, Que's performance has been below par of late where he cited fatigue for a run of five missed cuts.

"I'm feeling fresh now as I've been resting a lot back home. Over the last few weeks, I've only played four rounds of golf and spent most of my time chipping and testing new wedges.

"I got tired after playing six events in a row at the start of the year and then played poorly. But I'm feeling good now and looking forward to this week," said Que.

Johl is another player hoping to sign off his first half of the Asian Tour season on a strong note where the Brunei Open is the 15th leg of the season. The Tour will then break till September where 14 more events have been lined up.

"I'm not pleased with the way I've played in recent months. I've had some horrendous Sundays and it's mainly due to poor iron play. On this course, you need to hit good irons, so I'm in for a tough week.

"The funny thing is that I'm driving it great but I've lost confidence with my irons. The harder I try, the more difficult it becomes," said Johl, who is seeking his maiden title in Asia .

If Johl is suffering from a confidence crisis, his Dynasty Cup teammate Mamat is feeling good about his game. With an eye on next month's Major at St Andrews in Scotland , the Singaporean number one is thinking of victory.

"I hit it good in the pro-am today and the greens here are really nice. I feel confident with myself and my game but you need to be patient on this course. I like Nicklaus-designed courses so that's an added bonus for me this week," said Mamat.

 

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