Kiradech Aphibarnrat will be aiming to rewind the clock and kick-start his 2024 campaign when he tees-off in the Asian Tour’s season-opening IRS Prima Malaysian Open, which starts Thursday.

It was 11 years ago that Thai Kiradech wrote his name into Malaysian Open folklore when he eked out a one-stroke victory from European Ryder Cup star Edoardo Molinari.

With that triumph at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club, Kiradech soared into the top-100 in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) for the first time in 85th spot.

His seemingly irresistible rise in the game continued in the following years with a handful of wins that led to him becoming the first Thai to become a PGA Tour member in 2018.

Following that year’s World Golf Championships – Dell Technologies Match Play, he reached the dizzying heights of 29th in the OWGR.

Despite a few bright spots, his fortunes since those heady days have waned, languishing in 475th place in the rankings as of the start of 2024.

Competing at The Mines Resort & Golf Club this week presents him with a welcome opportunity to reset after a wretched run of form last year which saw him miss the half-way cut on 12 occasions.

However, a tie for fifth in the DP World Tour’s KLM Open and a share of ninth spot in the Asian Tour’s World City Championship presented by Hong Kong Golf Club indicated that Kiradech still has the game to add to his three Asian Tour titles to date.

Further motivation for Kiradech comes from the fact that the Malaysian Open has been afforded Open Qualifying Series Asia status by The R&A with the three leading finishers, who are not already exempt, qualifying for July’s 152nd Open Championship at Royal Troon.

Kiradech, now aged 34, has a score to settle with Royal Troon having missed the cut the last time The Open was staged there in 2016, one of six appearances the Thai has made in the eldest of the four men’s Major championships.

Given the rich rewards on offer at The Mines, it’s no wonder this year’s Malaysian Open has attracted such a strong field as it makes a welcome return to the calendar after a four-year hiatus following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leading the way are no fewer than eight of the top-nine from the Asian Tour’s 2023 final Order of Merit standings – Miguel Tabuena of the Philippines (second), Indian Gaganjeet Bhullar (third), New Zealander Ben Campbell (fourth), Australian Travis Smyth (fifth), Thais Phachara Khongwatmai (sixth) and Poom Saksansin (seventh), Spaniard David Puig (eighth) and Hong Kong’s Taichi Kho (ninth).

Also among the favourites will be American Trevor Simsby, victorious the last time the Malaysian Open was held in 2020, and Takumi Kanaya, one of the rising stars of Japan golf, a winner on last year’s International Series and currently 121st in the OWGR.

Other young guns to keep an eye on include Korean Woo-young Co, a graduate from last month’s Asian Tour Qualifying School, and Thai teen amateur prodigy Ratchanon ‘TK’ Chantananuwat.

The home nation also has a strong contingent, spearheaded by former Asian Tour Order of Merit champion Gavin Green, who will be joined in the starting line-up by his younger brother, Galven, as well as the country’s brightest amateur talents.

Rising Malaysian stars Shahriffuddin Ariffin and Ervin Chang will also be hoping to make an impression after strong 2023 seasons, as well as their experienced compatriot Ben Leong, who has been showing signs of returning to form in recent times.   

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