With the 2019 Asian Tour season reaching its turn, we look back at the players and events that have made the mid-year report a very compelling one.
Sentosa, Singapore, May 29: The first half of the 2019 Asian Tour season will be best remembered for thrusting the region’s best and promising players into the global spotlight.
A place where it all begins, the Asian Tour Qualifying School has always been the launchpad for aspiring golfers as they embark on their professional careers and chase their golfing dreams.
And it did not take long for the likes of rookies such as Zach Murray and Sadom Kaewkanjana to create ripples in the golfing world with their respective wins at the New Zealand Open and Bangabandhu Cup Golf Open in Bangladesh.
At the season-opening event in January, Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond found his winning rhythm again when he outclassed a host of quality players including Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and Davis Love III to lift the iconic SMBC Singapore Open trophy for his third Asian Tour title.
New Zealand’s Ryan Fox then produced a dominant performance in the final match by beating Spain’s Adrian Otaegui 3&2 to lift the ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth trophy the following month.
Like the unique formats of the popular ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth and New Zealand Open which have been a huge success, Murray also endeared himself to the crowd when he signaled his arrival on the biggest stage by becoming the third fastest Qualifying School graduate to win on the Asian Tour in March.
Murray’s wire-to-wire victory, which saw him being crowned as the newest champion of the New Zealand Open was made even sweeter as it was his first professional win, achieved in what was only his third start on the Asian Tour.
Victory at the Maybank Championship in March was especially special for Australian Scott Hend as he cemented his status as the most successful international golfer on the Asian Tour when he claimed his 10th victory in Malaysia.
Hend’s play-off victory over Spain’s Nacho Elvira was his first in three years since he last won in 2016. The Australian also became the second player, following Thonghcai Jaidee in 2014, to surpass US$5million in career earnings, thanks to his victory in Malaysia.
There was no lack of drama in March as Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher staged a remarkable comeback by firing three birdies in his closing four holes to win the Hero Indian Open.
Not to be outdone in the tale of rookies, young Thai talent Sadom surpassed Murray’s earlier feat by became the record fastest Qualifying School graduate to win on the Asian Tour in his very first start at the Bangabandhu Cup Golf Open.
Sadom secured his 2019 Asian Tour card in his first attempt at the Qualifying School and struck gold again with his first Tour victory and a second win as a professional after his maiden win on the Asian Development Tour (ADT) in February.
The Asian Tour headed to East Asia in May where an exciting run of events in China, Korea and Japan reignited the Order of Merit battle.
Finland’s Mikko Korhonen ensured his first play-off duel with France’s Benjamin Hebert would end in victory when he drained an eight-foot birdie putt on the first play-off hole to defeat the Frenchman and win the Volvo China Open.
The 38th GS Caltex Maekyung Open Golf Championship saw the trophy being retained on home soil again after Korea’s Taehee Lee edged Finland’s Janne Kaske to claim his first Asian Tour title.
Japan’s Yosuke Asaji then delivered the perfect mother’s day gift on the day that matters most when he held his nerve to win the Asia-Pacific Diamond Cup in Chiba prefecture.
Beyond home comforts, the golfing world also began to take notice of South Africa’s Justin Harding and Jazz, who both elevated into the higher echelons of the game.
Harding continued to make waves even on the European Tour by winning the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in March and emerged as one of the surprise packages at The Masters Tournament. He finished tied for 12th to earn a return ticket to The Masters in 2020.
American Kurt Kitayama, who graduated from Qualifying School in 2018, also made big strides in the Middle East when he was crowned the Oman Open champion. It was his second European Tour title since winning the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open last December.
Jazz then took his prolific form to the Major stage when he finished in a creditable tied-14th place at the PGA Championship two weeks ago
That finish, which was also the best result by a Thai at the PGA Championship, moved him to a career-high 69th place on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Amidst the intense competition that provided all with a great spectacle the last five months, new heroes have emerged with records rewritten.
Hend holds a slim advantage over Jazz on the Asian Tour Order of Merit at this stage.
Slightly over US$50,000 separates the two but expect more twist and turns when the players return to action starting with the Kolon The 62nd KOREA Open Golf Championship next month.
After all, this is #whereitsAT.
Sentosa, Singapore, May 27: Filipino star Angelo Que rounded off a commendable campaign at the Kansai Open Golf Championship after marking his best efforts of the week with a closing seven-under-par 65 to finish in a share of fourth place on Sunday.
Que, who started the round with a seven-shot deficit, returned with a flawless card highlighted by seven birdies, including five for a front-nine 31, to end his campaign with a 15-under-par 273 total at the KOMA Golf Club in Nara.
The 40-year-old Que, a three-time Asian Tour champion, would finish four shots back of eventual winner Tomoharu Otsuki of Japan, who defeated compatriot Rikuya Hoshino on the fourth extra hole to claim his first ever title since turning professional nine years ago.
Que broke through on the Japan Golf Tour Organisation (JGTO) when he won the Top Cup Tokai Classic last October, four years since he started plying his trade in Japan. That victory also ended an eight-year title drought for Que, a proud father of two.
Rising Thai star Jazz Janewattananond signed for a 71 to settle for a tied-25th place finish at the Kansai Open. The 23-year-old Jazz would slip one spot to 70th position on the latest Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) following his outing in Japan.
Over at the Made in Denmark presented by FREJA, American John Catlin marked his best outing in 14 starts on the European Tour with a tied-12th place finish, thanks to a closing five-under-par 66 at the Himmerland Golf & Spa Resort.
The 28-year-old Catlin, who enjoyed a breakout season on the Asian Tour in 2018 thanks to three victories, settled seven shots back of winner Bernd Wiesberger after compiling a four-day total of seven-under-par 277.
India’s S.S.P. Chawrasia would return with a sizzling 65 to finish two shots back of Catlin in tied-18th position while Thai veteran Thongchai Jaidee grabbed a share of 33rd place following a solid 66.
American Kevin Na claimed his third PGA TOUR title in style at the Charles Schwab Challenge after closing with a four-under-par 66 to win by four shots. The former Asian Tour winner gave a restored 1973 Dodge Challenger, which is the reward for the winner, to his caddy Kenny Harms right after his winning putt fell.
A total of 33 players, including a handful of Asian Tour members, are vying for the three coveted spots on offer for the upcoming U.S. Open at the Sectional Qualifying in Japan on Monday. The 36-hole event is held at the Kuwana Country Club in Mie Prefecture.
Asian Tour members in the field include Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond, who sits in second place on the Asian Tour Habitat for Humanity Standings, Maverick Antcliff of Australia, Zimbabwean Scott Vincent, Filipino ace Angelo Que, as well as Thailand’s Danthai Boonma, Poom Saksansin and Sadom Kaewkanjana.
Bethpage, New York, May 20: Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond enjoyed the best result by a Thai player at the PGA Championship after closing with a seven-over-par 77 on Sunday.
The 23-year-old Jazz took a commendable tied-14th finish after marking his card with one double bogey, six bogeys and a birdie to compile a four-day total of two-over-par 282 at the challenging Bethpage Black course.
American Brooks Koepka went wire-to-wire to successfully defend his title with a 74 which propelled him to the number one spot on the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR).
Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished in tied-41st following a 75 while South Africa’s Justin Harding took tied-54th after carding a 72.
American’s Kurt Kitayama (72) and David Lipsky (71) ended their campaigns in tied-64th and tied-71st respectively.
Bethpage, New York, May 19: Rising star Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand continued to exceed his own expectations as he signed for a three-under-par 67 to move into a share of second place following the penultimate round of the PGA Championship on Saturday.
The 23-year-old Jazz, a three-time Asian Tour winner, fired five birdies against two bogeys to trail leader Brooks Koepka by seven shots with a three-day total of five-under-par 205 at the Bethpage Black course.
Jazz, who thought he would struggle to break 80 after seeing the course on Monday, surprised himself by capping three rounds no worse than par in his debut appearance at the PGA Championship, which is also his second Major tournament.
“It was raining when I arrived here on Monday and it was raining on Tuesday as well. The course was playing so tough because the rough was so long. I was having a nightmare. How am I going to play this golf course? I’m not going to break 80. But this (to move into a share of second place) has exceeded my expectations already,” said Jazz.
Jazz, placed 72nd on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) and second on the Asian Tour Habitat for Humanity Standings, got off to a fast start with three birdies in his first six holes before curling in a tricky 13-foot birdie putt on the 10th.
Despite dropping two shots on 14 and 17, Jazz recovered brilliantly with a closing birdie on the par-four 18th, where he found the green in two before rolling in a nine-footer.
“This is my first time on the East Coast, and it’s next level. It’s so different. I love it. People keep shouting love you. They love me here,” added Jazz, who got into contention with Jack Miller, a frozen foods manager at a local grocery store, on his bag.
Jazz became the youngest player to make the halfway cut on the Asian Tour when he was still an amateur at the age of 14. He lost his Asian Tour card for the first time in his career after finishing outside of top-60 on the Order of Merit in 2016.
The young Thai, however, went for a two-week stint as a monk when he turned 21 years old that December and returned to claim his first Asian Tour victory in Bangladesh two months later. Jazz has added two more victories since and made his Major debut at The Open last July.
Jazz, who will play alongside American Luke List in the second last group on Sunday, is expected to break into the top-50 in the world if he finishes fourth or better at the PGA Championship. A solo fifth place finish will get him close.
Bethpage, New York, May 18: Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond continued his remarkable debut at the PGA Championship by signing for a second round two-under-par 68 to take a share of 10th place on Friday.
Jazz, who is playing on a special exemption at the year’s second Major, showed no signs of nerve as he took on the world’s best players at the demanding Bethpage Black course.
After opening with a 70, the three-time Asian Tour winner, resumed his charge by marking his card with three birdies and a bogey for a two-day total of two-under-par 138, 10 shots back of American history-maker, Brooks Koepka, who recorded the lowest 36-hole score in a Major championship after he signed for a 65.
“I didn’t feel any pressure on the golf course. I love it (playing here). It’s my first time playing in such a crowd and hearing them shout my name. I don’t know how to react to it. They give me some really funny names but I try not to remember it,”said Jazz.
While he may only be playing at Bethpage Black for the first time, Jazz is already putting his limited knowledge of the course to good use.
“If you’re in the rough here, you just got to take your medicine. You’ve to try to get it back to the fairways with a short iron. You have to be patient and try your best not to get a bogey. That’s all I need to know,” said Jazz.
American Kurt Kitayama, a one-time Asian Tour winner, safely made it into the weekend rounds after returning with a 68 to take a share of 47th place.
Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, together with 2014 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion, David Lipsky and South Africa’s Justin Harding are also through after they made the cut which was set at four-over par.
South Africa’s Shaun Norris meanwhile made the early exit after posting rounds of 73 and 74.
ROUND ONE REPORT
Bethpage, New York, May 17: Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond opened his campaign with an even-par 70 to trail defending champion American Brooks Koepka by seven shots in the first round of the PGA Championship on Thursday.
The 23-year-old Thai, playing on a special exemption on the PGA TOUR this week, took a share of 17th place along with American David Lipsky, who matched Jazz’s opening day efforts at the challenging Bethpage Black course.
Jazz, a three-time Asian Tour winner, traded three birdies against as many bogeys to finish two shots ahead of reigning Masters champion Tiger Woods (72) who sits in tied-51st.
Koepka, who is looking to become first player to successfully defend a PGA title since Woods did in 2007, set the course record with his spectacular bogey-free round of 63.
South Africa’s Shaun Norris posted a 73 to take tied-74th place while countryman Justin Harding sits in tied-91st alongside American Kurt Kitayama on matching 74s.
Thailand’s number one player Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who is making his sixth appearance at this week’s Major, struggled to a 76 to take tied-123rd place.