World Number Three Luke Donald will headline an all-star cast when he makes his debut in this week’s Maybank Malaysian Open, which carries an increased prize fund of US$2.75million.
Donald, who finished in fourth place in last week’s Tampa Bay Championship presented by EverBank on the US PGA Tour, will be bidding to secure his eighth victory on The European Tour in Kuala Lumpur, and his first since he successfully defended his BMW PGA Championship title last year.
His previous best finish in a tournament held in Asia and jointly sanctioned by The European and Asian Tours was tied sixth in the 2005 BMW Asian Open.
It is Donald’s first appearance in a ‘regular’ European Tour event since finishing in a tie for third in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai last November, and he is returning to top form approaching an important stage of the season.
"The results in my first couple of events weren’t as I’d have liked, but last week there was a lot of improvement," he said. "I’ve felt a lot more comfortable with my game in the last couple of weeks, and a lot more in control of the golf ball. I had a lot more chances and had a decent chance to defend my title.
"I came up a little short in the end, but the game feels like it’s trending in the right direction. We’ve got the Masters in a few weeks’ time and I’m excited about that.
"I haven’t been on the course yet, but I’ve heard great things about it. It’s in great shape and has some good elevation changes. There have been a couple of really good winners here in the last couple of years – Louis (Oosthuizen) last year and Matteo (Manassero) a couple of years ago. So I’m excited to get out there."
Having arrived from America on Tuesday morning and heading straight to the course, Donald would be forgiven for being jaded. However, he added: "I’ve travelled a lot as a golfer and that has certainly helped me become a global player - learning how to deal with different courses, different grasses and different types of competition. Those are the things that make me a good player.
"Any time you have a 12-hour time difference there's a bit of adjusting to do, but I've never really had a problem with jetlag in the past."
The Englishman will be joined at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club, in Malaysia’s capital city, by Major Champions Charl Schwartzel of South Africa and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, as well as Italy’s Matteo Manassero, who succeeded his fellow teenager Noh Seung-yul as the winner two years ago.
Schwartzel, who has been in scintillating form so far this season, will be looking to improve on his sixth place finish in last year’s tournament, which was won by his compatriot and fellow Major winner Louis Oosthuizen.
Schwartzel said: “The Malaysian Open is definitely one of my favourite tournaments of the year. I love everything about Asia – the food, the people, the culture and the great golf courses. So I’m excited about going back to KL [Kuala Lumpur].”
Manassero was aged just 17 years and 363 days when he captured his second European Tour title at the 2011 Maybank Malaysian Open.
The 19 year old, who then claimed a third victory in last November’s Barclays Singapore Open, boasts an impressive record in the event, following his victory by finishing in a tie for seventh place last year.
Harrington is making his first appearance in the tournament since 2006, when he finished in a tie for 13th place behind Charlie Wi.
Other notable names in the field include South African Thomas Aiken, seeking back-to-back victories after his stunning success in last week’s Avantha Masters; and Thai ace Thongchai Jaidee, who won the Maybank Malaysian Open in successive seasons in 2004 and 2005 before finishing runner-up the following year.
Jaidee said: “I really love the country and the course, it feels just like playing at home in Thailand. My record in the tournament is very good, so hopefully I can have another good week and climb into the top 50 of the World to qualify for the Masters. That’s my main goal this week.”
This year is the 15th staging of the Maybank Malaysian Open, which was the first tournament to be co-sanctioned by The European and Asian Tours in 1999.