The first half of the 2015 Asian Tour season can simply be described in six syllables – Anirban Lahiri.
The supremely talented Indian star has produced by far the greatest heroics in the opening six months where his golfing fortunes and stock have skyrocketed following stunning victories in Malaysia and India over a glorious three-week run in February.
In a season which will include five new tournaments on the Asian Tour Schedule, the 28-year-old Lahiri has stepped up onto the plate once more although golden oldies Singapore’s Mardan Mamat and Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand, with a combined age of 96 years young, have produced eye-catching victories as well.
Such has been the calibre of golf, both at home and abroad, that a high total of 19 Asian Tour members occupy spots in the top-200 of the current Official World Golf Ranking while 11 members are on course to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Asian Tour Chairman Kyi Hla Han said: “After finishing second on our Order of Merit with two wins last season, Anirban Lahiri has continued to perform at the highest level by winning twice this year which is truly impressive.
“He also enjoyed a memorable debut at the Masters Tournament in the United States where he made the halfway cut. We’ve seen some other wonderful performances including wins by Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Liang Wen-chong on other Tours which speak highly of the talent that is available on the Asian Tour.”
At the season-opening Maybank Malaysian Open, Lahiri defeated a top-class field and dethroned title holder Lee Westwood of England, whom he played alongside during the final round. Lahiri holed a snaky birdie putt on the penultimate hole on Sunday which proved decisive in his march to victory.
He then rode on his hot form two weeks later to land the Hero Indian Open crown, much to the delight the home fans. Again, he produced another ‘Lahiri moment’ by dramatically chipping in to save par on the penultimate hole which ensured his spot in a play-off against countryman S.S.P. Chawrasia.
Lahiri, now ranked 47th in the world and leading the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit, birdied the first extra hole to cap an amazing triumph after starting the final round seven shots off the lead.
Sandwiched between Lahiri’s superlative efforts was Australian Andrew Dodt’s emotional victory at the inaugural True Thailand Classic presented by Black Mountain, one of the new events on show.
Dodt’s triumph, his career’s second, saw the Asian Tour match its best streak of four consecutive victories in co-sanctioned events with the European Tour achieved previously from between 2008/09.
With Lahiri’s triumph making it a high five for the Asian Tour following his Indian triumph, the dominance served only to highlight the growing strength of the game in the region, said Han.
“It was tremendous to see Asian Tour members winning five straight co-sanctioned events, which started with David Lipsky and Scott Hend winning in Switzerland and Hong Kong last year. It proves that our players are more than capable of matching the best in the world,” said Han, himself a former Asian number one.
After finishing tied third at the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open, an historic new event which was tri-sanctioned by the Asian, European and Sunshine Tours, Mardan showed that old is gold when he won the Bashundhara Bangladesh Open for his third triumph in his 40s. Prayad then became king at the Queen’s Cup with an epic come-from-behind win in Koh Samui to strike another chord for the veterans.
Away from home, Thai ace Thongchai Jaidee, the only man to lift three Asian Tour Order of Merit titles, made his mark with an impressive runner-up finish at the BMW PGA Championship, the flagship event in Europe. Ranked 34th in the world now, the 45-year-old Thai is poised to make his Presidents Cup debut for the International team against the United States in Korea in October.
Liang, the first mainland Chinese to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 2007, claimed a five-stroke victory at the JGT Championship for his first title in Japan while big-hitting Thai Kiradech, the Asian number one in 2013, was victorious in a European Tour event China.
Later this month, Lipsky, the reigning Asian Tour Order of Merit champion, will lead a strong Asian Tour contingent to The Open at St Andrews, Scotland. Other Asian Tour members in the elite field for the year’s third Major will include Lahiri, Hend, Thongchai, Liang, Kiradech, Marcus Fraser of Australia and American Jonathan Moore.