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Japan's finest flock to Thailand Open

Shingo KatayamaBANGKOK, March 6 - Multiple winner Shingo Katayama will lead the most powerful contingent of Japanese players ever to assemble outside of their own country into this month’s U.S. $1 million Thailand Open, the season-opening event on fast-growing OneAsia.

Katayama, an iconic figure in Japan golf with 26 titles to his credit, will be joined in the stellar field at Thana City Golf & Sports Club from March 14-17 by Yuta Ikeda, Yoshinori Fujimoto, Toshinori Muto and Kenichi Kuboya, all winners on the Japan Golf Tour Organisation (JGTO) last year.

The Korean quintet of Kim Kyung-tae, Kim Hyung-sung, Lee Kyoung-hoon, Ryu Hyun-woo and Hwang Jung-gon, Korean-Americans Han Lee and Jay Choi, Australian Brad Kennedy and China’s Wu Ashun, who triumphed on the ultra-competitive JGTO last season, are also in the line-up for the Thailand Open.

The event is being jointly sanctioned by OneAsia and the JGTO for the first time, with earnings counting to both money lists, sparking unprecedented interest from leading players in the Asia-Pacific region.

Katayama has been an advocate of closer ties between the JGTO and OneAsia, believing that the partnership --  which will also see the Enjoy Jakarta Indonesia PGA Championship from March 28-31 co-sanctioned -- is mutually beneficial.

“I hope a lot more tournaments will be co-sanctioned (by OneAsia and the JGTO),” said Katayama, who has noted previously that young Japanese players have a lot to gain from greater cooperation between the two circuits.

Katayama, who turned 40 in late January, has been Japan’s number one on five occasions and believes that age is no barrier to further success.

Thailand Open logo“I have topped the (JGTO) Order of Merit in my twenties and my thirties so I would like to do the same in my forties,” said Katayama, who finished a creditable 18th on the money list last year.

“My form is still improving. I have 26 victories now and I would like to win 35 times in total by the time I am 45.”

Katayama, known as the “Cat in the Hat” for his flamboyant headwear, has set himself a couple of ambitious targets for 2013.

“My goal is to win twice and play The Masters next year,” said Katayama, currently the 10th ranked Japanese player at world number 183.

He will be making his third appearance at the Thailand Open and memories are still fresh of his tournament debut in 2010 when he recorded a rare albatross two on the 524-yard, par-five 10th hole at Burapha Golf Club.

“I have enjoyed a lot of success in Japan but I have never had an albatross,” said Katayama, who finished 11th in 2010,  five strokes adrift of winner Liang Wenchong of China.

“OneAsia seems to bring out the best in me.”