For the third time in six years, the Carlsberg Malaysian Open returns to the Saujana Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur this week and once again a high quality field has assembled to battle it out for the lion’s share of the $1,210,000 prize fund.
Leading the way will be two of the most in-form players on The European Tour in 2004, Ireland’s Padraig Harrington and Miguel Angel Jiménez of Spain, who currently occupy eighth and second place respectively on the Volvo Order of Merit and who both also know very well what it takes to win in Asia.
Harrington won the first counting event on the 2004 Volvo Order of Merit, the Omega Hong Kong Open at Hong Kong Golf Club when he boldly birdied the 17th and 18th holes in the final round to snatch the title from under the nose of South African Hennie Otto.
Jiménez’s Asian success came three weeks ago when he held off the challenge of Thomas Björn at the Alpine Golf and Sports Club in Bangkok, Thailand, to win the Johnnie Walker Classic, a victory which also propelled him to the top of The Ryder Cup World Points List.
The existence of valuable Ryder Cup points will add to the desire to top the pile on Sunday night, as India’s Arjun Atwal did 12 months ago when he claimed his second European Tour title at The Mines Resort & Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur.
The last winner at Saujana in 2001 was one of the most dynamic and in-form players in world golf at the present time, Fiji’s Vijay Singh, whose play-off victory, ironically against Harrington, was the first of a double success in Asia for the current Money Leader on the US PGA Tour, for the following week he went on to record a two shot victory in the Caltex Singapore Masters.
Another player certain to draw the crowds this week is seven time Volvo Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie, who will make his debut in the event, but who too showed he knows what it takes to win in Asia, capturing the Macau Open at the end of 2003, to keep up his impressive record of having won at least one tournament every year since 1993.
All competitors will have to test their game on one of the top rated golf courses in the country. The Palm Course, or ‘The Cobra’ as it is colloquially known, is both testing and challenging as it winds it way through hilly terrain, lined all the way by tall, imposing palms.
One thing the European players especially will have to work hard to overcome is the heat and humidity, a factor explained by Lee Westwood, the European Number One in 2000, and the winner of the Malaysian Open in 1997 before it became part of The European Tour International Schedule.
“It is a mental challenge as much as anything,” said the Englishman. “The conditions are usually incredibly humid and the key is to keep your concentration and stay hydrated.
“The Europeans in the field are not as accustomed to the steamy conditions they will experience in Malaysia so it is a case of using every ounce of stamina and endurance on a course which is particularly undulating.”
The return to Saujana G&CC was welcomed by Ken Schofield, Executive Director of The European Tour, who said: “There is always a special feeling associated with a return to a familiar venue, and this week it is a pleasure and a privilege to be back at Saujana Golf and Country Club for the third time in the six year history of the Carlsberg Malaysian Open as a joint sanctioned tournament between the Asian Tour and The European Tour.”
The recent move by Asian touring professionals to set up their own association has also received support from The European Tour as Schofield said :”As we are in Asia by invitation as a fellow players organization, we whole-heartedly support the Asian players initiative, an ever increasing number of whom have become respected Members of The European Tour.”