Thaworn of Thailand steals Padraig Harrington's thunder in sultry Malaysian Open
Although defending champion Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand is seeking his third straight Malaysian Open victory this week, Padraig Harrington was tapped as the favorite in Kuala Lumpur, despite the fact that he’s never won the tournament before. This gives you an idea of how Eurocentric some people can be. It’s the Asians who know the golf course best. But somehow the oddsmakers still favor an Irishman coming off a nine-week layoff.
I watched the first round today on Thai satellite television, and found it to be an utterly listless beginning. Harrington looked rusty, and all the other European players were sweating profusely, as if they ‘d drunk too much beer the night before. Perhaps the lack of energy was somehow related to the fact that the tournament couldn’t find a sponsor until a month ago. There hasn’t been much buzz.
The tournament looks cruddy on TV. The Kuala Lumpur Country Club clearly isn’t ready, and the field is markedly weaker than the stellar one at last week’s Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia. Most of the European stars stayed home, or else they’re playing in the Nissan Open where the prize money is a lot bigger.
I felt almost relieved when a wicked Malaysian thunderstorm forced suspension of play in mid-afternoon. The storm reminded me of what’s ahead here in Thailand. Monsoon season ordinarily begins in June and it’s an experience worth having. The heavens explode, rooftops rattle, streets flood, animals go silent, and if you need to go outside to get food, you’ve got to roll up your pant legs above the knee and wear rubber flip-flops. It’s a lot of fun.
Thongchai, who used to jump out of airplanes for the Thai Army before he found a safer way to earn a baht, was on the 8th hole, one-under-par, when the rain started. His compatriot, Thaworn Wiratchant, was already sitting in the clubhouse with an opening-round seven-under-par 65. At 39, Thaworn is enjoying a late-career bloom, having won four tournaments last year and being named Asian player of the year. He’s got an oddly vertical golf swing that won’t win him any style points, but he’s known as a wizard around the greens and, indeed, his chips and approach putts rarely stopped more than a couple of inches from the cup.
The rest of the golf world will see Thaworn this year at the British Open. When my Thai girlfriend got a look at him on TV, she laughed and said, “He dark.” Like most Asians, Thais have this thing about skin color; they carry umbrellas in the sun in hopes of avoiding a tan, so nobody will think they labor in the rice fields. But Thaworn can’t afford to worry about that. He earned $500,000 in the sun last year, and this year he hopes to win a good deal more.
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""all the other European players were sweating profusely, as if they 'd drunk too much beer the night before.""
Jiminez is leading he is a European player.
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