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Thongchai looking to defend Malaysian Open

Asian Tour number one Thongchai Jaidee bids to defend a title for the first time in his glowing career when he tees up in the US$1.21 million Carlsberg Malaysian Open on Thursday.

The Thai star has enjoyed a meteoric rise since joining the pro ranks in 1999, winning six titles, two Order of Merit crowns and topping the career earnings list with US$1.42 million in winnings.

But despite his impressive resume, the former paratrooper, who has jumped out of aeroplanes 'hundreds of times' has never successfully defended a title. This week would be a good time to end that streak.

"Obviously, my goal is to win again. I've not successfully defended a title before in my career so this would be a good week to do so. My game is now about 80% there and I feel there is still room for improvement for the rest of the year," said Thongchai at Saujana Golf and Country Club today.

He will have a battle on his hands against an elite Asian Tour line-up that includes India's Jyoti Randhawa, last December's Volvo Masters of Asia winner in Kuala Lumpur, Chinese ace Zhang Lian-wei and Thai compatriots Prayad Marksaeng and Boonchu Ruangkit.

The co-sanctioned event with the European Tour has also attracted top guns Padraig Harrington of Ireland, ranked eighth in the world, Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, who won three times in Asia last season, and big Dane Thomas Bjorn.

The 35-year-old Thongchai made history at Saujana last year en route to becoming the first Thai to win a European Tour-sanctioned event. His victory was memorable as he holed-in-one the par three 16th during the final round. Winner of the Myanmar Open as well, Thongchai sweetened his year by lifting the Asian Tour Order of Merit title for the second time in four years last December.

However, his 2005 campaign didn't get off to the best of starts at last month's Caltex Masters presented by Carlsberg in Singapore but Thongchai has put in the hard work in his hometown in Lopburi with swing coach Sanit Hensakun.

"I've been practising a lot back home. I had all sorts of problems at the par threes in Singapore and in two rounds, I dropped five shots there which saw me miss the cut. I drove the ball well and I've been trying to work more on my iron play with my coach.

"This week, I certainly hope to have better luck on the par threes. I like the golf course here, the layout is good and the condition is good all the time. In fact, I have played on this course a lot. I have taken short trips to KL in the past and I've often played at Saujana. So I know the course well.

"Last year's win was really memorable. I remember the hole in one (on the last day) at the 16th. I had a six iron in hand and hit it good to find the bottom of the hole. That ace helped me win the tournament as on that hole, par is a good score because the green is so severe.

"I feel my game is getting better from 12 months ago. I'm driving it a lot straighter these days and my putting is becoming more consistent. Previously, I used too much hands in the putting stroke but I have changed it a bit by using more of my shoulders in the putting action. I've been spending like three hours a day on the putting green to get this right.

"Mentally, I feel I'm getting stronger as well. Playing in the bigger events in the US and Europe last year was an eye opener as the top players rarely lose their concentration after bad shots. So I have been trying to learn from them," said Thongchai.

The Carlsberg Malaysian Open is the third leg of the 2005 Asian Tour schedule.


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