Thongchai Jaidee created a piece of European Tour history when be became the first player from Thailand to win on The European International Schedule with a two stroke victory over Australian Brad Kennedy in the Carlsberg Malaysian Open at Saujana Golf Club, Kuala Lumpur.
After struggling on the front nine, the former paratrooper raced home in a blistering 30 strokes, the most impressive of those being a hole-in-one on the 16th. Tied for the lead with three holes to play, Thongchai hit a spectacular six iron 188 yards for the second ace of his professional career. A birdie on the last gave him a closing round of 68, four under par, for a 14 under par total winning total of 274.
Kennedy, who holds Category 12 Membership of The European Tour after finishing 135th in the 2003 Volvo Order of Merit, finished runner-up for a second successive year despite a valiant final round charge but ultimately his closing 67 came up two short. Thomas Levet of France finished as the leading European in the event joint sanctioned by The European Tour and the Asian Tour, sharing third place with two more Thais, Prayad Marksaeng and Chawalit Plaphol, on ten under par 278 after a closing 70.
Jaidee’s victory, his second in as many weeks following his triumph in the Myanmar Open on the Asian Tour last week, and third in six starts having also won the Volvo Masters of Asia at the end of last year, earns him a two year exemption on The European Tour until the end of 2006.
“It’s been my dream to play on The European Tour and now I will have to get used to life in Europe,” he said. “I’m looking forward to taking the opportunity to play alongside some of the best players in the world.”
The winners’ cheque of €158,153 (£107,095) is the largest of his career and lifted him to fourth in the Volvo Order of Merit with €207,425 (£140,460) behind Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez, who overtook Ernie Els at the top with another stellar performance in the Far East, following his victory in the Johnnie Walker Classic with a tie for sixth place with England’s Andrew Marshall.
His victory also further highlights the growing strength on Asian golfers as he becomes the seventh player from the Asian continent to win on The European Tour International Schedule following last year’s winner Arjun Atwal, Isao Aoki, KJ Choi, Vijay Singh, Yeh wei-Tze and Lian-Wei Zhang.
Kennedy pushed Jaidee all the way. Six birdies in the first 14 holes kept him on the heels of the leader but, after parring the next three holes, needed to birdie the last to force a play-off. A pushed second shot into the trees made his task all the more difficult and although he found the putting surface his birdie putt raced four feet passed and he missed the return. Nevertheless, it was still an impressive performance in his sixth successive European Tour event in his quest to earn full playing privileges on The European Tour International Schedule and lifted him to ninth in the Volvo Order of Merit.
“I knew I was a few behind going into the last round and knew I had to do something pretty special,” he said. “ I played nicely this morning in the nine holes I had left to play of my third round, picked up two strokes and that got me within a striking distance. Then had 33 on the front nine which got me going and birdied the 11th, 12th and 14th holes to give myself an opportunity. I knew we needed to make a birdie four. Gave it my best but came up a little short.”