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Thaworn heads to China Open in confident mood

In-form Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand will spearhead the Asian Tour's challenge at this week's US$1.3 million Volvo China Open which will include no fewer than 10 of this season's champions.

The 38-year-old Thaworn is in irrepressible form this season and clinched a record fourth title in Hanoi at the weekend. After finishing joint third in last year's Volvo China Open, the terrific Thai will be gunning for victory at the Shenzhen Golf Club this week.

With winnings of US$483,420, Thaworn leads the Order of Merit by nearly US$100,000 from compatriot Thongchai Jaidee, last season's number one. There are three events remaining including the season-ending Volvo Masters of Asia in Bangkok next month.

"I've been lucky this season," said Thaworn with a touch of undestatement. "Every time I tee up, I will try my best to play well."

Thongchai will return to action in Asia determined to give his compatriot a run for his money. The former paratrooper failed to progress into the US PGA Tour Qualifying School Finals last week but this means he will have three cracks at overhauling Thaworn.

"I will give it a shot at the Order of Merit title. However, Thaworn has had a great season and I think he will be favourite. But if I can win one title, I may have a chance," said Thongchai, who was also number one in 2001.

Thaworn has triumphed in Indonesia , Chinese Taipei, India and at last week's Carlsberg Masters Vietnam to become the first player in history to lift four titles in a season. He is also primed become the first player to surpass the US$500,000 mark in winnings.

Other top Asian Tour stars who will head to Shenzhen for the Volvo China Open include India 's Jyoti Randhawa, Australian Terry Pilkadaris , Thailand 's Prayad Marksaeng and Chawalit Plaphol and rising stars Chinarat Phadungsil and India 's Shiv Kapur, who will play on a sponsor's invite.

Randhawa, currently third on the Order of Merit, will tee up in Shenzhen with his form intact following India's ninth place finish at the WGC Algarve World Cup in Portugal where he partnered Arjun Atwal.

The talented Randhawa, Asia 's number one in 2002, was hit by injuries in mid-season but is showing a welcome return to form as he looks for his first title in 2005. The Indian will also keen to complete a rare Volvo double as he is the reigning Volvo Masters of Asia winner.

The entire Asian winning team at the Visa Dynasty Cup will also be on parade at the Volvo China Open. Apart from Thaworn, Thongchai, Prayad and Randhawa, other members including Filipino Angelo Que, Boonchu Ruangkit of Thailand, China's Zhang Lian-wei and Liang Wen-chong, Korea's Mo Joong-kyung, Singaporean Mardan Mamat and India's Amandeep Johl will chase for honours in Shenzhen.

All eyes will also be on 17-year-old Thai Chinarat, who won the Double A International Open on home soil earlier this month while still an amateur. He edged out Kapur in a thrilling play-off and subsequently turned professional.

Kapur, the Asian Games gold medal winner in 2002, has also blossomed into a fine player with five top-10s in his last six tournaments and is presently ranked 17th on the money list.

The Asian stalwarts will have to contend with some of Europe 's finest including defending champion Stephen Dodd of Wales and English stars Nick Dougherty and Paul Casey.

Dodd will be looking to successfully defend his Volvo China Open crown after winning the World Cup on Sunday with partner Bradley Dredge.

The Volvo China Open will also see the return of six former champions including China 's Cheng Jun, England 's Simon Dyson, Australian David Gleeson , Myanmar 's Kyi Hla Han, Prayad and local hero Zhang.

November 21, 2005

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