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Kiradech eyes big chance at Florida’s $7m Honda Classic

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Thailand’s No 1 Kiradech Aphibarnrat will tee up his third PGA Tour event of the year on Thursday at Florida’s Honda Classic, after gaining entry at the expense of Doc Redman, who tested positive for Covid-19.

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Kiradech, a former Asian No 1, featured in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Puerto Rico Open last month but missed the cut by a single stroke on both occasions.

The grip it-and-rip it Thai star is currently 176th on the PGA Tour’s FedExCup rankings and he will be eager to make quick improvements with a good showing at PGA National (Champions) in Palm Beach Gardens after his last-minute entry.

He faces a daunting task at PGA National, famed for its “Bear Trap” which consists of holes 15, 16 and 17 and ranks as the Tour’s third-toughest stretch. The Bear Trap has accounted for 36 per cent of the balls in the water at PGA National (1,515), 37 per cent of the triple bogeys or worse (172) and just 12 per cent of the birdies or better (2,026).

In three previous appearances in the US$7-million tournament, which will see South Korea’s Sungjae Im defending his title, Kiradech missed two cuts and finished 68th in 2018. In eight rounds there, he has yet to break par on the demanding Tom Fazio-designed par-70 golf course.

His form has taken a dip in recent times following a fall during the 2019 Masters Tournament which saw him tear ligaments in his left knee. The last time he enjoyed a top-10 on the PGA Tour was at The CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in South Korea back in October 2019. He currently ranks 318th in the official world golf ranking, a contrast from his 2018 heyday when he regularly featured in the top 30.

On social media, Kiradech recently posted a video of himself practising in Orlando with the message “Keep working until I get my form back”, later posting “Work, work and work” – which he knows is the only way to get his game back into stride.

“I don’t want to make any goals as I want to get back to playing regularly again. I want to find the confidence and form and make sure I’m swinging the golf club good enough,” Kiradech, 31, said earlier this year.

Other Asian stars in the Honda field include India’s Anirban Lahiri, who will be making his fifth appearance in the event, South Korea’s Byeong Hun-an, Taiwan’s CT Pan and Xinjun Zhang of China. All four players will be looking to bounce back from missing the halfway cut at last weeks’ PGA Tour flagship tournament, The Players Championship, which American star Justin Thomas won by a single stroke. Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa and Satoshi Kodaira will also chase glory this week.

Lahiri finished 11th at PGA National in 2017 and will be hoping to use his familiarity with the golf course to good effect as he attempts to regain his consistency. South Korea’s An, who suffered the misfortune of sending four balls into the water on the island green par-3 17th hole last week, has performed well at the Honda Classic over the last few editions, finishing 4th in 2020 and 5th in 2018. Aside from Im, who triumphed here for his first PGA Tour title in 2020, another Korean, YE Yang, was victorious at PGA National in 2009, the year he also became Asia’s first major champion following his historic win at the PGA Championship.

Published : March 16, 2021