Phachara Khongwatmai will be aiming to follow in the footsteps of fellow-Thai Jazz Janewattananond when he tees-off in the 64th edition of the Kolon Korea Open Golf Championship on Thursday.
It was three years ago to the week that Jazz triumphed at Woo Jeong Hills Country Club – the last time the tournament was staged on the Asian Tour. Jazz went on to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit that season.
With three top-six finishes to his name already this campaign, Phachara is now looking to add a second Asian Tour title to his resume, having made his breakthrough at the Laguna Phuket Championship late last year.
Were he to do so at Woo Jeong Hills, where he tied for 31st in 2019, not only would Phachara consolidate his place in the top-five of the current Merit list, but also raise his hopes of emulating the feats of Jazz in topping the season-end standings.
An added incentive for Phachara and all those in the starting line-up is that the Kolon Korea Open is once again part of The Open Qualifying Series. As such the leading two players not already exempt who finish in the top-10 will earn spots in next month’s 150th Open Championship at St Andrews.
Among Phachara’s main challengers at Woo Jeong Hills in the event that is co-sanctioned with the Korea Golf Association are Sihwan Kim and Bio Kim, the leading two players in the latest Order of Merit.
Sihwan Kim has already won twice this year while Bio Kim secured his belated maiden Asian Tour success at Nam Seoul Country Club last month in the 41st GS Caltex Maekyung Open.
A second triumph on the Asian Tour in what is the 10th leg of the 2022 season will be especially poignant for Bio Kim, who announced his arrival on the big stage at the Kolon Korea Open in 2010. It will also mark his third triumph on home soil this year as he won the SK Telecom Open earlier this month.
Then aged 20 and in his first year as a professional, Bio Kim was hailed as the great new Korean hope after finishing joint second, two strokes behind compatriot YE Yang, who just months earlier had been crowned as Asia’s first Major winner following his defeat of Tiger Woods at the 2009 PGA Championship.
Yang is one of five Major champions to have had his name inscribed on the Korea Open trophy since the event’s inauguration in 1958, alongside Americans Orville Moody and John Daly, Fijian Vijay Singh and Spaniard Sergio Garcia.
Other notable winners include Americans Rickie Fowler and Scott Hoch, while Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy was runner-up in 2011 and 2013.
Due to Covid-19 related travel restrictions for foreigners, last year’s Kolon Korean Open were played as domestic event on the Korean PGA Tour, with Junseok Lee victorious. The tournament was cancelled in 2020. Lee, who won again on the local circuit on Sunday, will be brimming with confidence when he returns to defend his title this week.
Cho Minn Thant, Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer of the Asian Tour, said: “The Korea Open is one of our mainstay events and always a high point of the year.
“With the 64th Korea Open back on the schedule it shows the Asian Tour is returning to full speed and, along with the GS Caltex Maekyung Open, means our membership are able to return to one of their favourite tournament destinations.”