KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen head a trio of former Malaysian Open champions gunning for the title again just days after making weekend runs at the prestigious Masters tournament.
England's Westwood and South Africa's Oosthuizen fell short at the Masters but put in respectable showings, while Thailand's Asian Tour stalwart Thongchai Jaidee, a two-time champ in Malaysia, also made the cut at Augusta National Golf Club.
Play starts on Thursday with contestants looking to dethrone rising young Thai star and fan favourite Kiradech Aphibarnrat, last year's winner of the US$2.75 million (S$3.38 million) tournament co-sanctioned by both the European and Asian Tours.
The burly Kiradech, whose Malaysian win was his first on the European Tour, was bullish about his chances at the typically steamy Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club, having proven his ability to win in such conditions.
"I have very good memories of this golf course. Every time I tee off at this venue, I find myself having lots of energy and confidence," the 24-year-old said.
"The win last year was an important factor in my life - it enabled me to play on the biggest tours, gain plenty of experience and the opportunity to play with some of the best players in the world, so I hope to repeat that feat."
World No. 36 Westwood, who won in Malaysia in 1997, comes off a consistent four days at the Masters in which he remained in the hunt until Sunday, finishing seven shots behind eventual winner Bubba Watson.
Oosthuizen, meanwhile, recovered from stomach trouble to hover near the top of the leader board early at Augusta, before rocky middle rounds hurt the world No. 38's chances. He finished 25th.
Thongchai, who tied for 37th at the Masters, and his countryman Kiradech return to Malaysia a month after they led Team Asia to a tie with Europe in the inaugural EurAsia Cup here.
Captained by Thongchai, Team Asia staged a stirring fightback after being crushed 5-0 on the first day.
India's Anirban Lahiri, a member of the 10-man Asian squad who has been in good form, said the EurAsia Cup was a confidence booster.
"Beating some of the top players in the EurAsia Cup has boosted my confidence coming into this tournament," he said.
"The field is really strong here, so it's a good opportunity to beat these guys and stamp my mark. I believe in my capability to achieve that."
Italy's 20-year-old Matteo Manassero is another former Malaysian Open winner in the hunt. The 2011 champ will be looking to add to his four wins as a pro.