Golf: Asia's best a clear threat to title holder Sergio Garcia and other leading players at SMBC Singapore Open

Defending champion Sergio Garcia during a press conference for the SMBC Singapore Open at Serapong Course in Sentosa on Jan 15, 2019.
Defending champion Sergio Garcia during a press conference for the SMBC Singapore Open at Serapong Course in Sentosa on Jan 15, 2019.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Paul Casey is the highest-ranked golfer at the US$1 million (S$1.35 million) SMBC Singapore Open and was part of Europe's victorious Ryder Cup team last year.

But when the world No. 24 heard that Thailand's Poom Saksansin was also in the 156-man field, he said in mock horror: "Is he playing this week? Yes? Oh no."

Jokes aside, the Asian threat is very real for European stars such as himself and defending champion Sergio Garcia, who stopped the Asian streak at two since the Open returned after a three-year hiatus. Thailand's Prayad Marksaeng won in 2017 and South Korean Song Young-han in 2016.

Poom beat Casey in last January's EurAsia Cup, although Europe eventually won 14-10.

"He outplayed me in the singles," Casey said of his flight mate on Thursday (Jan 17).

"Putted brilliantly and dusted me off at the last, and I was playing very nicely that week too. That just shows (the rise of Asian golf).

 

"You see the best (Asian) players playing world golf but it's now very deep as well. I don't think we could honestly say that a decade ago."

Poom won last month in an Indonesian Masters field that included world No. 1 Justin Rose and 2016 The Open Championship winner Henrik Stenson.

He is expected to lead the Asian charge alongside compatriot Jazz Janewattananond, second in Indonesia and fourth in Singapore last year, and South Korean Park Sang-hyun, second on the 2018 Asian Tour money list.

Poom said of Sentosa Golf Club's 7,403-yard Serapong Course: "It is very tough. It's long for me because I don't hit it very far so I have to rely on my short game and smart play."

Ryo Ishikawa is also hoping that he and his fellow Japanese can make an impact in the event co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and the Japan Golf Tour Organisation.

"It's rare for the Japanese to be able to watch and compete against top players like Sergio and Paul so this is a huge chance and opportunity," the world No. 220 said on Wednesday in a pre-tournament media conference.

"Shigeki Maruyama and Ryuji Imada showed us how to compete with top foreign players on the PGA and European Tours and now it's our turn. Hideki (Matsuyama) is the best Japanese player now and we are all trying to follow him."

The former teen prodigy has not won since August 2016 but fancies his chances this week. He finished tied-16th in his first Singapore Open appearance last year.

"Last season was very tough but the last month or so was very big for me," said Ishikawa, who lost in a play-off to eventual champion Satoshi Kodaira at the Golf Nippon Series JT Cup last month.

"Although I couldn't win, I think I felt something (in my game) that I'd lost the last couple of years."

This year, there are 12 Singaporeans, eight professionals and four amateurs, including Choo Tze Huang. The 32-year-old said: "It's always nice to be playing at home. My game is going in the right direction so I just have to keep working, give my 100 per cent, and we'll see what happens."