Thongchai Jaidee: Malaysian Open at the double

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dee successfully defended his Malaysian Open crown on this day, 16 years ago.  Perhaps, more than any of his victories – to date he has claimed 13 on the Asian Tour, and eight on the European Tour – this event defined him as a player. We look back at those two memorable victories, both played at Saujana Golf & Country Club.

Thongchai Jaidee had already tasted victory on five occasions by the time he arrived at the Malaysian Open in 2004.

In fact, he had claimed the Myanmar Open the week beforehand – for the second time in his career – and so started the National Open of Malaysia as one of the favourites.

Ace Performance

He faced a formidable field as, for the fifth year on-the-trot, the tournament was jointly-sanctioned by the Asian and European Tours. Ireland’s Padraig Harrington – who was beaten in a play-off by Fijian Vijay Singh at the event three years before – Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn, Irishman Paul McGinley and Sweden’s emerging young star Henrik Stenson, were some of the headline acts.

It was, no doubt, the quality of the field that helped contributed to Thongchai’s virtuoso performance.

That week, he created a piece of European Tour history when he became the first player from Thailand to win on the European Tour – the anniversary of which is on Monday, February 22 – with a two-stroke victory over Australian Brad Kennedy.

After struggling on the front nine on Sunday, he raced home in a blistering 30 strokes, highlighted by that most celebrated of golf shots – an ace on the par-three 16th.

He had been tied for the lead with three holes to play and magnificently rose to the challenge by spectacularly sinking a six iron from 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.

Hs compatriots Prayad Marksaeng and Chawalit Plaphol, tied for third, four shots back, along with Frenchman Thomas Levet.

It was also Thongchai’s third win in six starts, as he also won the Volvo Masters of Asia at the end of 2003.

“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 (approximately US$191,000) was the largest of his career at the time, and he also became the sixth player from the Asian continent to win on the European Tour, along with India’s Arjun Atwal, Isao Aoki from Japan, Korean KJ Choi, Taiwan’s Yeh Wei-tze and Zhang Lian-wei from China.

Back-to-back brilliance

The circumstances of his victory the following year were somewhat more relaxed, as he started the final round with a six-shot lead and eventually triumphed by three, but there were a few anxious moments when Stenson and India’s Jyoti Randhawa, the closest challengers, sensed an opening.

Thongchai bogeyed the ninth and then drove out of bounds with a hooked drive on the 11th; but he steadied the ship with his second ball: holing from eight feet to drop just the one stroke and maintain a two-stroke advantage.

At that stage most of the pressure was coming from Stenson who was making huge strides into the seven shot deficit he faced at the start of the round. Four birdies on the front nine closed the gap to three and his birdie on the 11th left him only two adrift.

But 13 lived up to its tag and proved unlucky. Pressing for an eagle three, Stenson misjudged the wind and pulled his seven iron approach. His ball ended up sitting on top of the rocks by the edge of the water and, in attempting to nick it clean off the stone, the clubhead bounced and he only moved the ball forward a few feet. His next chip ran 10 feet past and, to his astonishment, the par putt stayed out.

Thongchai, playing in the final group behind Stenson, responded with a birdie on that hole: pitching to within a couple of feet to restore his four-shot cushion over the Swede.

Thongchai’s closing 70 gave him a winning total of 21-under-par total of 267 – three clear of Randhawa, with Stenson a further shot adrift.

The Thai star’s win saw him join a select group of players to have won the event back-to-back, the others being: Australian Graham Marsh (1974-75), and Japan’s Tomo Ishii (1964-65).

It also earned him a cheque for €156,763 (approximately US$190,000) and it was his seventh Asian Tour victory, placing him alongside Korea’s Wooksoon Kang as the most prolific winners on the Asian Tour at the time.

“This feels fantastic,” said Thongchai. “This win is better than last year. I just told myself to play my own game. The driver didn’t work well for me today but the irons worked nicely.”

Thongchai would go onto to win another 10 titles on Tour after that and complete his place among the greats of Asian golf

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