Order of Merit leader Naoki Sekito of Japan will be looking to cap a memorable season on the Asian Development Tour (ADT) with a fine showing at the US$160,000 Taifong Open, which gets underway on Thursday.
The race to top the ADT Order of Merit and finish inside top-seven on the Merit rankings will also reach its climax this week at the popular event, which was inaugurated as the richest tournament on the region’s secondary circuit in 2014.
With a winner’s prize purse of US$28,000 up for grabs, the stakes are high at the Taifong Golf Club as a total of 120 players from 13 countries will be vying to earn one of the seven coveted Asian Tour cards on offer for the 2020 season.
The 22-year-old Sekito, who has bagged two wins and five top-10 finishes this season, will take aim at becoming the first ever Japanese player to lift the Order of Merit crown on the ADT, which was launched as a gateway to the Asian Tour in 2010.
“I feel very excited coming into this week. I didn’t expect myself to play so well this season. I have won twice on the ADT and I just got through the Japan Golf Tour Qualifying School two weeks ago. Now that I’ve got my card in Japan, I hope to secure my card on the Asian Tour too.
“It has been a great experience playing on the ADT. I learnt to travel on my own and I get to visit a lot of different countries. I will give it my best again this week. I didn’t come here just to win the Order of Merit. I want to win the event as well,” Sekito said.
He leads the Order of Merit by more than US$20,000 with his season’s haul of US$50,278 and is all but guaranteed of his place as Thailand’s Itthipat Buranatanyarat, American Trevor Simsby and compatriot Ryuichi Oiwa, placed third, fifth and sixth respectively, all have a mathematical chance to chase him down with a win this week.
Itthipat missed out on his 2020 Asian Tour card after finishing 74th on the final Asian Tour Order of Merit last week. He hopes to make amends by putting up a solid performance at the Taifong Open to cement his position inside top-seven on the ADT money list, thereby regaining his playing rights on the Asian Tour.
“I feel like I’m on a holiday this week. It’s my last event of the year. I just want to enjoy myself. I had a good start to the year, hoping to finish off well too. I’ve played here for a few times now. You need to keep hitting fairways and greens to score out there,” said the 26-year-old Itthipat, who has claimed one win and two top-10s on the ADT this season.
Leunkwang Kim of Malaysia, who turns 25 years old on Christmas Day Wednesday, hopes to make it a week to remember by breaking into top-seven on the Merit rankings to earn his playing rights on the Asian Tour next season.
“It’s the biggest event on the ADT schedule but I’m just going to treat it like any other tournament. I will continue to do my very best. It’s Christmas week so I’m just going to have as much fun as I can,” said Kim, a one-time winner on the ADT this season.
“It’s my birthday tomorrow. I have never played golf on my birthday but I guess there’s a first for everything. I believe I’m getting more experienced as time goes,” added Kim, who sits in 13th place on the current rankings.
The Taifong Open, which is celebrating its sixth edition on the ADT this week, returns with great significance as it will be the season finale for the first time on the region’s secondary circuit, bringing the 2019 season to a memorable end.