BANGKOK, Feb 25 - Masters-bound Thaworn Wiratchant will lead a parade of past and present number ones into next month’s U.S. $1 million Thailand Open, the season-opening event on fast-rising OneAsia.
Last year, just 14 days short of his 46th birthday, the Thai became the oldest player to be crowned Asian Tour number one after a glorious season which saw him win three times and take his career tally on the circuit to a record 15 titles.
His achievement prompted Masters organisers to issue him an invitation to this year’s tournament and in April he will make his debut at Augusta, a fitting stage for one of the greatest players of his generation in Asia.
Before then Thaworn, whose lifelong ambition is to win his home Open, will be one of the headline acts at Thana City Golf & Sports Club from March 14-17.
He will be joined in the stellar field by three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington of Ireland, who won the European Tour money list title in 2006, and former Japan Tour Order of Merit winners Shingo Katayama and Kim Kyung-tae.
Juvic Pagunsan of the Philippines, Asian Tour number one in 2011, is also in the top-class line up along with defending champion Chris Wood of England, who won the Qatar Masters on the European Tour last month, and Ireland’s Paul McGinley, recently named captain of the Europe team for the 2014 Ryder Cup.
Thaworn, a tireless competitor who has won 19 titles internationally including the 2011 Indonesia Open presented by Enjoy Jakarta on OneAsia, has played in every edition of the Thailand Open since 1988, but victory in his national Open has so far eluded him.
The country’s revered King donated the Thailand Open trophy and local professionals -- including the deeply spiritual Thaworn, who wears three Buddha amulets around his neck -- believe that the tournament is more than just a physical and mental test.
"For a Thai you have to deserve to win the trophy," said Thaworn in an attempt to explain why just two of his countrymen -- Suthep Meesawat and Boonchu Ruangkit -- have won their national Open since 1965.
"It is more than playing well ... you have to have a pure heart as well."
Thaworn must add stamina to the list of requirements needed to be successful this year as he will be flying half way around the world to tee it up at Thana City Golf & Sports Club.
The week before the Thailand Open, Thaworn will play the World Golf Championships - Cadillac Championship over the TPC Blue Monster at Doral -- one of the rewards for an outstanding season in 2012.
“I will arrive back in Thailand on the Tuesday night before the tournament and could be suffering from jet lag so I don’t know what to expect,” said Thaworn. “But I am playing for the King’s Trophy, so I will try hard to win.”
Thaworn last played Thana City Golf & Sports Club in the 1998 Thailand Open -- he finished joint 33rd after a disappointing last round 75 -- and he hopes to have a couple of practice rounds before flying to the United States.
“I want to see for myself what changes have been made to the course since I played there last, as part of my preparation,” said Thaworn, a short-game wizard who can conjure up birdies from the most unlikely of spots.
The 44th edition of the celebrated Thailand Open will be jointly sanctioned for the first time this year by the Japan Golf Tour Organisation (JGTO), with earnings counting to both money lists.