CHIANG MAI – Open champion Ernie Els will leave his favoured belly putter at home this week when he bids to become the first winner of the $750,000 Chiangmai Golf Classic against a host of other top players.
The four-time major winner heads a star-studded field at the Asian Tour event, taking place on the 7,471-yard par 72 Alpine Golf Resort, including Asia’s only major winner Y.E. Yang and 2005 US Open champion Michael Campbell.
Els won Britain’s Open with a belly putter last July but as golf’s ruling bodies consider a ban on the anchored style of putting, the South African is trying to use a shorter device on the greens as much as possible.
“I’ll be using the short putter,” Els, who last played in Thailand in 2004, said.
The 43-year-old added that “even if I won here this week, I will use the belly putter at the Masters (next month) simply because the greens are so quick over there”.
“But after the Masters, I’ll try to use the short putter more regularly,” he said in comments released by the organisers.
South Korea’s Yang, who became Asia’s first only major-winner at the 2009 PGA Championship, is likely to be one of Els’s biggest challengers in northern Thailand.
The 41-year-old is hoping to put a difficult 2012 season behind him with a good showing this week.
Yang, whose last tournament victory came in 2010, finished in the top 20 on the PGA Tour only once in 2012 and enjoyed a single top-10 on the Asian Tour.
“Last year was more psychological than physical,” Yang said.
“Technique-wise, swing-wise and form-wise, it wasn’t that bad. I just put too much pressure on myself.
“This year, I’m more relaxed mentally and physically. It’s translated to a better start than last year. My form and psychology is improving. Hopefully I can get back to the state where I can get my confidence high,” he added.
Home favourite Thongchai Jaidee, currently ranked 59th in the world, can break into the world top 50 with a win, a ranking that would earn him a place at the first major of the year — the US Masters — which begins on April 11.
New Zealand’s Campbell, without a European Tour title since 2005, is another to watch. Campbell has already recorded two top-20 finishes in Europe this season to suggest his form is returning.
Other contenders are Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who won the Maybank Malaysian Open last week, and the highly-rated Gaganjeet Bhullar of India. The pair are first and second on the Asian Tour order of merit.