Nick Dougherty returns to the vibrant city of Singapore this week in search of the inspiration which carried him to his first European Tour victory in 2005 and within a stroke of a successful defence of the Clariden Leu Singapore Masters title at Laguna National Golf & Country Club 12 months ago.
The 24 year old Englishman admits that his courtship with the Singaporean venue has been something of a torrid love affair. Two years ago, he shot four rounds in the sixties to cruise home serenely by five strokes from Maarten Lafeber and Colin Montgomerie but the spell was broken – at least temporarily – last year when Mardan Mamat triumphed in front of his home fans.
That disappointment still rankles Dougherty, the 2002 Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year, who felt he missed a wonderful opportunity to defend the crown he fought so hard to capture in the first place.
“I feel I should probably have defended my title” said Dougherty ruefully. “I played poorly on the final day last year and was four over after nine holes, which isn’t satisfactory if you harbour ambitions of winning tournaments. No doubt the Singaporeans cheering on Mardan have a different view, but I have nothing but praise for the locals.
“Even though they were cheering on their own man, the crowds were always polite towards me and that sums up Singapore in a nutshell. It’s a very special place and gives off a great ‘vibe’ as soon as you step off the plane.”
Dougherty arrives in Singapore fit and fresh thanks to a new diet, but nursing a sense of frustration after missing the cut in the Johnnie Walker Classic in Phuket last week. Happily, he is no longer nursing a giant headache caused by a mishap following the Dubai Desert Classic a few weeks ago.
He recalled; “It was just after the Dubai Desert Classic a few weeks ago and I was feeling ill with some sort of virus back in the hotel. I went into the bathroom and passed out and cracked my head open. I staggered out and my girlfriend, Claire, took one look at the wound and burst into tears!
“The cut went right down to the skull and I needed eight stitches. Hopefully it might have knocked some sense into me” he smiled.
For the first time, the 2007 Clariden Leu Singapore Masters will be played over two courses – the traditional Masters lay-out and the less familiar Classic track. Dougherty is 28 under par for his last eight rounds and added; “I love the tournament and also the Masters course. I am not familiar with the Classic course but it should be interesting to play both this time.”
Dougherty is joined in the field by another up-and-coming English golfer in Oliver Wilson, who played superbly in Phuket, only missing out to South Africa’s Anton Haig in a play-off for the Johnnie Walker Classic.
The trophy went to 20 year old Haig, whose victory moved him to eighth place on The European Tour Order of Merit, and the youngster from Johannesburg will aim even higher when he tees up again in Singapore as a Full Member of The European Tour.
Coincidentally, four players in the field of 204 have used Singapore as the springboard to their first European Tour success. Arjun Atwal became the first Indian to win in 2002 and Zhang Lian-Wei notched up his, and China’s, first success on The European Tour 12 months later. Dougherty collected the silverware in 2005 and Mamat in 2006.
All four will be in the field this year and Mardan, for one, is relishing another opportunity to recreate the rapturous scenes around the 18th green of 12 months ago.
He commented: “To defend a title in my home town feels good and I am looking forward to it. The change the format of play, with two courses and an increased field will be interesting.
“I've been practising on the Classic Course and I'm looking forward to it. Some of the holes there play longer and it's a good test of golf. From the back tees, the Classic is quite long. It tends to get windy as well and it will certainly be a good tournament.
“Last year, I was fully focussed on myself. I did my own thing and didn't bother about the things around me. I did what I was supposed to do and that was my key to success. My concentration was very good as I didn't strike the ball well, especially the last four holes. But my concentration was very strong and it helped me finish on top.
“It is harder to win a tournament at home and it was harder as well to lead from the first round. I have to give credit for myself for achieving that.”
Among the leading names in the field are David Howell and Lee Westwood of England, both regular visitors to Asia, and a host of European Tour winners including another Englishman in Simon Dyson, who has a strong track record as a tournament winner on that continent.
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