Thongchai eyes Augusta berth

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 January, 2005, 12:00am

Former soldier Thongchai Jaidee hopes to launch a full frontal assault for the Caltex Masters 2005 title to boost his hopes of an invite to the US Masters.

The Thai star, last year's Asian Tour number one, leads the region's best into battle today against a formidable lineup from the European Tour in the US$1 million co-sanctioned event at Laguna National Golf and Country Club.

Seven-time European number one Colin Montgomerie of Scotland is back to defend his crown alongside England's Lee Westwood, who is the highest ranked player in the world in this week's field, big Dane Thomas Bjorn and former British Open champion Paul Lawrie.

Thongchai is a man on a mission. After wrapping up his second Order of Merit crown in four years last month and finishing 43rd on the European money list, the Thai is looking to break new ground. A spot in the prestigious Masters at Augusta, the year's first Major in April, is firmly in his thoughts.

'I played in a local event back home two weeks ago, shot 22 under but still finished second,' said Thongchai. 'I'm driving the ball well and my putting is improving. My form right now is 80 per cent, not 100 per cent yet, hopefully this week it will come.

'My manager is trying to obtain an invitation from Augusta National. Hopefully, there will be some good news. Maybe if I win this week, it will help my case.'

This week, Thongchai must contend with the likes of Westwood, ranked 25th in the world and a proven winner in Asia. The Englishman has tasted success in Japan, Malaysia and Macau.

'My swing feels pretty good but my short game might be a little rusty,' said Westwood. 'Hopefully I won't need it too much. I feel relaxed and refreshed. I have always enjoyed playing out here and that is why I have always done quite well. The only thing that I have got going against me is that it is my first week of the year.'