Thailand's Marksaeng leads regional charge

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 December, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 December, 1997, 12:00am

Prayad Marksaeng has established himself as the Omega Tour's top Asian player this year after victories at the Lexus International in Bangkok and the Yokohama Singapore PGA Championship.

The wins highlighted a strong year by Thai players with two of Prayad's compatriots also among the winners.

Thammanoon Sriroj captured the Pakistan Masters in October and Boonchu Ruangkit became the first player in tour history to successfully defend his title - at the London Myanmar Open in Burma.

Thai players received a big lift at the start of the season when golfing sensation Tiger Woods, whose mother is Thai, destroyed the competition in front of huge galleries in Bangkok to win the Asian Honda Classic by 10 strokes in February.

In the three-year history of the Omega Tour, Thai and US players have dominated, winning 11 tournaments each.

The Tour's concept has always been to foster and showcase developing Asian talent.

Boonchu and India's Jeev Milkha Singh established themselves as the tour's first Asian stars during the inaugural tour and have remained dominant.

In a season-long battle, Boonchu narrowly missed winning the 1995 Omega Tour of Merit, finishing second (US$173,377 in prize money) to Taiwan's Lin Keng-chi.

This year, the 41-year-old has struggled with a hip injury and is 17th on the Order of Merit with $80,053.

Singh, arguably the Omega Tour's most popular player, has rebounded from an off-season last year having finishing third in 1995.

Despite being without a win this season, he has recorded several top-10 finishes and is third in the Order of Merit with $107,091.

Other Indian players have also had strong campaigns.

Third-year pro Arjun Atwal has surpassed his total career winnings with $65,638, and Vivek Bhandari is 59th on the money list with $36,964.

Gaurav Ghei, who posted a memorable win at the 1995 Gadgil Western Masters, has won $31,195 in only six events.

Zaw Moe, a top Burmese player, ended three years of Omega Tour frustration with a win at the Singapore Open in August, the first 'major' of the year.

Compatriot Kyi Hla Han is 46th on the money list at $47,085 with a third- place finish at the Lexus being his best result.

Koreans established themselves as a tour de force last season winning four of 23 events.

Kang Wook-soon easily topped the Order of Merit with $183,787, more than $53,000 ahead of second placed Gerry Norquist.

Kang has struggled this season but he put together his best performance of the year last week, finishing second at the Hong Kong Open to vault to 18th on the Order of Merit after starting the week at 49th.

In all, Korean players occupy five of the top 25 positions on the money list.

Park No-seok, winner of the Philip Morris Asia Cup, is 11th, Kuala Lumpur Open winner Charlie Wi 13th, Mo Joong-kyung 16th, Kang Wook-soon 18th and veteran Park Nam-sin, winner of the Omega Tour's first-ever event in 1995, is 22nd.