Indian star Anirban Lahiri believes he now has the game go toe-to-toe with golf’s top names at the cash-rich CIMB Classic starting on Thursday.
The in-form Lahiri claimed his second title of the season in Macau last weekend, adding to a memorable triumph at the CIMB Niaga Indonesian Masters in April, and he is eager to shine at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.
“You can’t just go to sleep and wake up a different player the next morning. I think I’ve learned a lot over the last four years. I won my first event in 2011 and between that victory and between my victory last week, I’ve seen a big difference in the kind of golf that I’m playing now,” said Lahiri.
“I’ve become a better player, and know how to play different courses. The experience of playing in three Majors have helped so far. I’ve played with good and top class players and learned from watching them play.”
With the Asian Tour co-sanctioning the CIMB Classic with the PGA TOUR, Lahiri will get another chance to reinforce his growing reputation and also improve on his world ranking of 69th position.
He will play alongside Major winner Jason Dufner and Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama in the opening two rounds in the event which leading names include FedExCup champion Billy Horshel, England’s Lee Westwood, Spaniard Sergio Garcia and title holder Ryan Moore.
Currently second on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit, Lahiri, who finished joint 10th here when the club hosted the Malaysian Open in April, has set several goals which include breaking into the world’s top-50 and becoming the fourth Indian to claim the accolade as Asia’s number one.
“It is difficult for me to go out on the golf course and just play with a result in mind. Obviously it’s an important week in terms of where the Order of Merit goes. I have to just look to play well. The Order of Merit is something that I would like to win. I’m not going to let that play on my mind so much, just focus on playing good golf for four days,” said the Indian, who trails Merit leader David Lipsky by about US$160,000.
As the only tournament jointly sanctioned with the PGA TOUR, Lahiri knows that achieving a CIMB double would provide him with a shortcut to the United States. This week’s winner will earn a handsome US$1.26 million including a two-year winner’s exemption on the PGA Tour, as well as starts in the 2015 Masters Tournament and Players Championship.
“It is one of the great things about playing in Asia. We have a great Tour and we have a lot of opportunities on higher Tours as well. I think we’re all very glad to be here and to be playing in such a fantastic event with a good field, and obviously if you can play your best, you can earn that opportunity to play in America,” he said.
The CIMB Classic will offer a Ryder Cup spin-off as Garcia and Westwood, who were part of the victorious European Team, have been paired with Patrick Reed of the United States.
Garcia, the world number four and an eight-time PGA TOUR winner said: “There’s still a lot of memories coming from four weeks ago at the Ryder Cup. It was an amazing experience. It is going to be fun to be able to play with both of them.”
After finishing tied 11th in his debut at last year’s CIMB Classic, Garcia is confident of launching a title charge this weekend. “It was an easy decision to come back here. I feel like I’m a global player and that extends to Asia and all parts of the world. I try to move around as much as I can, and these next three or four weeks are going to be very interesting,” he said.
Westwood, who is known as an Asian specialist after winning 13 titles in the region including the 2012 CIMB Niaga Indonesian Masters, hopes to regain his winning form at the CIMB Classic after securing victory at the same venue at the Malaysian Open in April.
“I always seem to play well when it is really hot and steamy. It is just a nice place for me to come and play. I’ve enjoyed coming here. The first time was in 1994 I think, and I’ve been coming back most years for one reason or another,” said Westwood.
Having travelled and won across the globe, Westwood hailed the immense growth of golf in the region. “I don’t think anybody could have dreamt the PGA TOUR would be playing events outside of America and certainly in places like Malaysia 20 years ago. The golf courses, purses and quality of Asian golfers have improved dramatically. Asia is an emerging market and it is a great place to come and play,” he added.