While Thailand’s Poom Saksansin took the limelight last week by winning the Yeangder TPC, there were two players in contention, who both eventually tied for fourth, who also stood out: Chinese-Taipei’s Chan Shih-chang and Indian Rashid Khan.
That’s because it was those two who went head-to-head in a sudden-death play-off at last year’s US$1 million Mercuries Taiwan Masters – the country’s most lucrative golf tournament, which tees-off tomorrow at Taiwan Golf and Country Club.
Both are clearly in good form heading into this week’s event, with Chan looking for a successful defence and Khan attempting to finish one place higher as the Chinese-Taipei golfer defeated the Indian on the second-hole extra-hole 12 months ago, at the same venue, after coming from three shots behind with five to play.
Unbelievably, he made birdie on the par-four 18th on three successive occasions to snatch the win. A brilliant nine-foot birdie putt saw him secure the coveted title, after Khan had missed his birdie attempt from 20 feet.
“Good result last week. Gave me a lot of confidence coming to this week for my title defence,” said Chan, who has not won since then.
“I can’t believe it’s been a year since I won here. Great memories from last year! I’m just going to play shot by shot this week, nothing special. Just do that and see how it goes.”
The victory was Chan’s fifth on the Asian Tour and third in 10 months: he won the Blue Canyon Phuket Championship at the end of November in 2021, and he triumphed in Thailand in 2022 at the Royal’s Cup in February.
The win also maintained his one hundred percent record in play-offs, having won two on the Asian Development Tour (ADT) and one on the Taiwan PGA circuit.
“I do feel this week could be even harder though,” added the 37-year-old, who is also a six-time winner on the ADT.
“The quality of play on the Asian Tour has improved a lot and it’s very good to see, you can tell the depth of talent now based on last week’s scoring.
“Also, the rough is up this week and the fairways are narrower. It’s going to be more challenging than before. It’s going to be very important to hit it straight off the tees. Distance control will also be key.”
In last season’s play-off Khan had been attempting to win on the Asian Tour for the first time in eight years – with both of his previous successes coming in 2014, at the SAIL-SBI Open in India, and the Chiangmai Golf Classic, in Thailand.
That third victory has remained elusive this season as well, although he came close at The DGC Open presented by Mastercard in February, where he finished second.
He said: “Just one spot better this year, so yeah that’s my target. Like I’m a person who doesn’t set any targets. Just that I love playing golf and enjoy myself out there. That’s what my motto is.”
Last year he had a one-shot lead at the turn and after a birdie on 10 and 13 he looked a safe bet for the title. But Chan drew level with birdies on 15 and 18, while Khan dropped a shot on the penultimate hole.
Despite the loss it was another fine performance by him in the event, as he also tied for fifth in 2019 and equal third in 2015.
“I like playing on these grainier greens,” said Khan.
“You know when I see the grain I can really see the line as well. It’s just that when I’m playing on bent grass it’s really a different putting green for me, and normally when we play in India, the greens are like this. A little difference is that they are patchy somewhere, and you really need to give yourself a good putt. And if you’re confident about your putter I think you can score well.”
He tees-off in the morning at 7.35 with Chinese-Taipei’s Wang Wei-hsiang and American Turk Pettit, while Chan is out at 11.55 with former winners Steve Lewton from England and Thailand’s Suradit Yongcharoenchai.
“It always feels great to come back to Taiwan, I mean I love this place,” said the Indian.
“Especially the Teppanyaki restaurant and that’s the reason I really like the place. And the greens, I really liked playing on these greens, you know, short game, if you’re strong enough to not make a mistake I think that’s the key for the tournament.
“And this year also, I have seen there is a there is a lot of rough, and a lot of fairways have been cut narrower, so I think it’s gonna be a little different than last year. So, I’m looking forward to it.”