BANGKOK (AFP) – Reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson is hoping to add another international trophy to his collection when he tees off Thursday in the Thailand Golf Championship at Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi.
It is the big-hitting left-hander’s third appearance at the $1 million Asian Tour flagship event and after finishing runner-up and joint 30th in the past two years, he is hoping to make it third time lucky.
The 36-year-old Watson enjoyed his first tournament victory outside the US at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China, last month and it has made him hungry for more international victories.
“The win in China has given me the confidence that I can win outside the USA,” said the world number four, who also won the Masters in 2012. “It was pretty special.”
Watson said he hoped he could play at the same high level this week at Amata Spring.
“It is a challenging course. Last year the rough was very tough. You have to hit the fairways if you want to win.”
Watson heads a star-studded field which includes Spain’s defending champion Sergio Garcia, reigning US Open champion Martin Kaymer of Germany and England’s Ryder Cup star Lee Westwood, winner of the Thai title in 2012.
Garcia, who is still recovering from flu symptoms, said he was looking forward to defending his title.
“It’s always fun playing in Thailand. I like the people and I like this course,” he said.
The Spaniard, ranked seventh in the world, overcame Sweden’s Henrik Stenson to win last year’s event.
Garcia has former world number one tennis star and long-time friend Juan Carlos Ferrero on his bag this week.
“I thought it would be a nice experience for him as he knows his golf,” he said.
Kaymer will be making his debut in the Thai event and said he is looking forward to it. “I haven’t just come here to show up. I want to win,” he said.
Kaymer added he was impressed by how much Thais love both their country and golf. “That’s something you don’t always find,” he added.
France’s Victor Dubuisson, who made such an impression in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in September, will also tee off Thursday but South Africa’s Ernie Els has had to withdraw with an ankle injury.
Leading the Asian challengers is Thai veteran Thongchai Jaidee. The former army paratrooper is coming off a seventh-place finish last week in the prestigious Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City, South Africa.
World number 42 Thongchai, a six-time European Tour winner, said he would love to wrap up a highly successful year with a victory in his home event. “It has been the best year of my life,” he said.
His compatriot Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who won the Asian Tour’s order of merit last year, could also be in the frame after an encouraging fifth place at the Nedbank.
The Japanese challenge is led by in-form Hiroshi Iwata, who finished tied third just one shot behind Watson in Shanghai last month, Koumei Oda and Shingo Katayama.