Katayama, Liang strut into Thailand Open

Shingo Katayama of Japan on the practice range before the Thailand Open.

photo

Liang Wen-chong

PATTAYA, Thailand – Colorful Shingo Katayama is aiming to light up OneAsia’s Thailand Open this week with the type of freewheeling play that has won him US$17.3 million in his homeland of Japan.

Katayama, who has swapped his trademark Stetson for a less flamboyant porkpie hat, is up against a strong field assembled for the Thailand Open at Burapha Golf Club starting Thursday.

A group of 56 Thai players, including recent winners Thaworn Wiratchant and Chawalit Plaphol, will challenge for the US$1 million purse alongside China’s Liang Wen-chong, who finished eighth in the U.S. PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, and last week’s champion on the Mercedes-Benz Tour, Mardan Mamat of Singapore.

Katayama, a five-time money-list winner on the Japan Tour who finished fourth at last year’s U.S. Masters, has been drawn with Chawalit and Mamat in a key pairing.

Chawalit is on the comeback trail after a couple of years in the doldrums and has won twice on the Mercedes-Benz Tour this season.

Mamat’s playoff victory over Thailand’s Pariya Junhasavasdikul in the Mercedes-Benz Masters Malaysia was made all the more remarkable as the Singaporean is fasting during Ramadan.

Another group that will be closely watched features Liang, winner of the season-opening Luxehills Chengdu Open on OneAsia, Thaworn and Kiwi Michael Hendry, champion of the Indonesia Open.

Liang finished three strokes behind U.S. PGA Championship winner Martin Kaymer from Germany and now has the appetite to challenge for more majors.

“I always learn a lot from playing in the big events, but the U.S. PGA Championship gave me even greater experience,” Liang said. “It was a great week playing with so many world-class players. I was a little nervous in the final round, but again it is something I can learn from.

“It is difficult to say if I think I can win one. I just need to keep playing at this same level and then I may win a major.”

Liang, second behind Hendry in Indonesia, is just US$103,460 behind leader Y.E. Yang of Korea on the OneAsia Order of Merit, and a victory this week will leapfrog him past the China Open winner.

Only two Thai players – Suthep Meesawat (1991) and Boonchu Ruangkit (1992 and 2004) – have won their home Open, and Thaworn dearly wants the prize that has eluded him during a glittering career.

“I would love to win my home Open,” said the 43-year-old Thaworn, who has won 11 times on the Asian Tour. “It is the tournament every Thai player wants to win as we are playing for the King’s Trophy.’’

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