Sentosa, Singapore, May 15: Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat will lead the Asian Tour charge at the PGA Championship as he hits top form in time for the year’s second Major which starts on Thursday.
Kiradech, the first Thai to earn his full playing rights on the PGA TOUR, is coming off a tied-fifth result at the AT&T Byron Nelson last week which moved him up two rungs from 43 to 41 place on the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR). He will make his sixth appearance at this week’s Major.
South Africa’s Justin Harding, who enjoyed his first top-10 finish on the PGA TOUR on Sunday, will also feature alongside Kiradech at the challenging Bethpage Black course in Long Island, New York.
Debutants Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand, Shaun Norris of South Africa and Americans Kurt Kitayama and David Lipsky will also be part of the new wave of contenders hoping to hoist the Wanamaker trophy at the 101st staging of the prestigious event.
Ranked first in the field in putting statistics last week and third overall on the PGA TOUR with a 0.974 strokes gained putting average, the 29-year-old Thai proved his game was on song with his hot putter despite battling a knee injury he incurred at The Masters last month.
“I just kept seeing the ball roll to the line and matched the speed. Heading into the PGA Championship week, I will just keep doing what I am doing and hopefully it will be my week,” said Kiradech.
The burly Thai claimed his third Asian Tour victory in February last year which ended a three-year title drought on Tour. He had a stellar 2018 with two top-five finishes at the World Golf Championships and a career-best Major result of 15th place at the U.S. Open.
Hoping to improve on his tied-25th finish at the PGA Championship in 2013, which was also the first-ever cut he made in a Major, Kiradech will adopt the same carefree mindset which led him to his third top-five finish of the 2018/19 PGA TOUR season.
“When I played last week, I just tried to enjoy the game and get the feel of the ball. It was quite a surprise to me to get a good result. I will try and have the same game plan and play freely. It is such a great feeling and I just want to enjoy every step,” added Kiradech.
After taking a week off to prepare for his first appearance at the PGA Championship, Jazz, who is currently 72nd on the OWGR, will have his sights set on a top-10 finish to propel him into the top-60 in order to qualify for the U.S. Open Championship by the cut-off date.
The 23-year-old Thai already has an impressive season with one victory and four top-10 finishes in the bag and he will be hoping to carry over that momentum into this week.
“My goal before this week was to get my momentum going in time for the PGA Championship because I haven’t been playing that well lately and I feel I can do better.
“I missed the cut at the Hero Indian Open by one shot but I made the cut at the Volvo China Open and I need momentum like that to be on form,” added Jazz.
The PGA Championship is the second of four annual Major events on the golfing calendar and this year would be the first time since 1949 that the event is held in May.