After an encouraging performance at the Johnnie Walker Classic in Perth last weekend, Felipe Aguilar was in confident mood as he prepared for the defence of his Enjoy Jakarta Indonesia Open title.
Aguilar became the first player from Chile to win a European Tour event when he edged Jeev Milkha Singh of India by one stroke at the Cengkareng Golf Club in Jakarta 12 months ago.
The Chilean ace has not managed a win since although he came very close in Australia last week, finishing just one shot behind teenage amateur sensation Danny Lee of New Zealand.
Buoyed by that result, Aguilar is feeling bullish about his chances of repeating his triumph when the Enjoy Jakarta Indonesia Open tees off at the New Kuta Golf Club on the holiday island of Bali.
“I thought I played quite well (in Perth) but everything came down to one or two putts that unfortunately didn’t drop for me, although Danny played very well and deserved to win in the end,” said the 34 year old.
“I was happy for him, and I was also happy for myself. It was good to have a week like that right before coming over here to try to defend my title.
“The first two tournaments I played, in Qatar and Dubai, showed I’d taken too long a break – I took all of December off – and wasn’t really ready to play when I came back. I was a bit short of practice, which is why the results weren’t that great.
“But over the last month it’s been non-stop practice in Santiago, and working on my swing and physical preparation, and that showed in my performance last week.”
With many of The European Tour’s top guns featuring in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Aguilar is hoping for a good performance in Bali to help him build momentum in The Race to Dubai.
“That has to be my main goal for the year, more than the Majors,” said the Chilean, who moved up 119 spots to 24th in the Race to Dubai ranking after his result in Perth.
“They will come along in time. If I can finish in the top 60 and qualify for the Dubai World Championship, then there’s every chance I’ll also qualify for the Majors.”
Despite Aguilar’s confidence, the omens are not good for a successful defence of the Indonesia Open title.
Since it was revived in 2005 as a co-sanctioned event between the European and Asian Tours, no player has managed to win the tournament more than once.
Indeed all four previous winners – Thailand’s Thaworn Wiratchant (2005), Englishman Simon Dyson (2006), Finland’s Mikko Ilonen (2007) and Aguilar – celebrated their maiden European Tour successes in the event.
Although the world’s top 64 players are in Arizona, there are a number of notable names who have journeyed to what is arguably The European Tour’s most exotic stop, including: England’s Nick Dougherty, Sweden’s Daniel Chopra and Thai ace Thongchai Jaidee, who is back in action after missing the Johnnie Walker Classic due to illness.
Facing them is a 7,328-yard links style course overlooking the Indian Ocean which opened for play just two years ago.
“It’s a great golf course, especially considering it’s so new,” said Aguilar.
“I don’t think anyone will shoot really low, because it’s a little more difficult than the course last year. It’s difficult to hit your approach shots close to the pin but if you can get some consistency going, you’re going to be there or thereabouts.”
After back to back wins at the Hana Bank Vietnam Masters and Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open in the closing stages of last season on the Asian Tour, Thailand’s Thongchai hopes to ride on a similar wave of confidence in the US$1.25 million co-sanctioned event.
“I like this course and the fairways are nice and wide. The greens are a bit tricky but I feel good about my game,” said Thongchai, who has recently recovered from a throat infection.
“I had a throat infection and went back to Thailand to see a doctor. That infection started in Malaysia. I then had to withdraw from the Johnnie Walker Classic in Perth last Monday and have been resting since then, so I’ve hardly played any golf.
“But I’m feeling much better now and it’s great to be in Bali for the first time.”
Another player feeling under the weather is Chopra, who is still fighting the effects of flu. But the two-time US PGA Tour champion is pleased to be back to a country where he had spent most of his days as a junior golfer.
“Other than India, Sweden and England, Indonesia is probably the place I’ve spent the most time. So I always feel comfortable coming back here because I have so many great memories.
“I finished second in the 1996 Indonesia Open, then tenth when the tournament came to Bali. So I’m looking forward to the week. It would be lovely to get my first European Tour win here. I had a chance last year in the Mastercard Masters at Huntingdale, but lost in a play-off. So it’d be great to go one better here.”