Maybank Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE Maybank Championship returns to Kuala Lumpur for its third staging, with Fabrizio Zanotti back to defend his title. It is fair to say that Zanotti’s victory 12 months ago was something of a surprise but make no mistake – the man from Paraguay is a proper golfer. He was his country’s top amateur golfer for six years before turning professional 15 years ago.
His progress was slow but in 2006 he won the Tour de las Americas Order of Merit thanks to victory in the final event of the season, the Aboerto Mexicano Corona. It also happened to be the second event on 2007 European Challenge Tour schedule and allowed him to join the tour for the remainder of the season. He finished 11th in the rankings that year and, with it, promotion to the European Tour. Sadly, 2008 turned out to be a year to forget for Zanotti, who lost his card. But he was back on tour in 2009 after coming through the ordeal that is qualifying school.
He won his first European Tour title in 2014 at the BMW International Open, becoming the first golfer from Paraguay to do so. His win at the Maybank last year was his second and he achieved it in splendid fashion with a final round of 63 that climaxed with a birdie-eagle finish that allowed him to beat American David Lipsky by a single shot – he had begun the final day six shots off the lead, and the win took him back inside the top 100 in the world rankings.
The star turn at Saujana Golf and Country Club this year is Henrik Stenson, of Sweden. He remains the only professional golfer to have won both the Race to Dubai and the FedEx Cup in the same year, while his Open Championship victory in 2016 was regarded as one of the finest and most exciting displays seen on the last day of any major championship.
“We are delighted to welcome Henrik Stenson to Maybank Championship 2018, ASEAN’s leading home-grown international golfing experience. As one of the most respected and anticipated co-sanctioned tournaments in the ASEAN region, the Maybank Championship will be a valuable platform for this established champion to make his mark. Having Stenson with us will definitely create opportunities for rising tour professionals across ASEAN, as well as top Malaysian golfers from the local Tour, to experience true competition with one of the world’s best golfers,” said Datuk Abdul Farid Alias, Group President and CEO of Maybank.
Marcus Fraser, of Australia, won the inaugural Maybank Championship in 2016 and he is also in the field this time.
Bernd Wiesberger, the 32-year-old Austrian, has become one of the most consistent performers on the European Tour and arrives in Malaysia looking for his fifth win on the European Tour. He is a magnificent specimen who stands 6ft 3in and tips the scales at around 13.5 stones. He won twice in 2012 and looked for all the world like a man who was going to become a serial winner. That he hasn’t is one of the great puzzles. Wiesberger had to wait until 2015 for win number three, which came at the French Open. And he returned to the winners’ circle in 2017 at the Shenzhen International.
He finished third here last year, only missing out on a chance to win thanks to a poor third round of 73, but he showed his fighting qualities by storming back with a 66 on Sunday. He had already finished fourth at the Abu Dhabi Championship and would go on to enjoy another tied fourth at the Volvo China Open and also finished in the top 10 at both the KLM Open and the WGC HSBC Champions in China. But there remains a sense that this is a golfer who has yet to fully live up to his incredible potential. He made the cut at The Masters, US Open and The Open at Royal Birkdale and even briefly flirted with the leaderboard at Erin Hills.
When you stand on the range and watch Wiesberger hit golf balls you feel that you are watching somebody who should be winning majors and ought to be a shoo-in for Europe’s Ryder Cup team. He is a magnificent ball striker who probably needs one BIG win to really open the floodgates.
Paul Dunne is also in the field here. He seems to have grown in stature since his astounding win at the British Masters at Close House, when he held off a charging Rory McIlroy, holing that magnificent chip at the 18th for a round of 61 and a three-shot win. His progress comes as no surprise to those who watched him lead The Open after 54 holes at St Andrews while he was still an amateur. The 25-year-old is only 5ft 9in but he spends a lot of time in the gym and hits the ball a long, long way. With that win under his belt, Dunne is now hunting for more. He is a super-confident young man who is blessed with a wonderful short game and would be an asset to Thomas Bjorn’s Ryder Cup team in September. It would be a huge surprise to your correspondent if he doesn’t make the team.
Look out, too, for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, a man who has to get down to some serious business, and soon. He is everybody’s favourite golfer, a man who plays the game with a smile on his face, and he is a formidable talent. But it is now almost two years since his one and only win at the Valderrama Open. Beef is one of those characters who happily spends time signing countless autographs and having pictures taken with fans and it would be all to easy to believe that he doesn’t take himself or his golf too seriously. Don’t be fooled. He cares passionately about his game and has been working hard on the range.
Yes, he enjoys a beer and a burger, but he proves that you really don’t have to be a gym rat to be successful. He would probably be the first to admit that he needs to keep an eye on his weight – according to his profile on the European Tour, he weighs 15 stones, and he is just 5ft 9in. He struggled throughout 2017 as he attempted to juggle life on the European and PGA Tours but, having lost his PGA Tour card, he will be focusing on Europe in 2018 and is looking for a big year.
If Johnston needs any encouragement, he need only look at Kiradech Aphibarnrat, the Thai golfer who lists fast food among his favourite things. He is a throwback to a bygone era, clearly overweight and with an aversion to all things related to fitness. But here’s the thing – Aphibarnrat gets away with it because he is a prodigious talent who may not spend any time in the gym but does spend hours beating golf balls and has a glorious touch on and around the greens. What fun it would be to see Johnston and Aphibarnrat going head to head coming down the final stretch on Sunday afternoon.
Bernd Wiesberger. Time for another win
Paul Dunne. Can become world class
Kiradech Aphibarnrat. Does it his own way
Bernd Wiesberger. Another week, another guaranteed good finish
Paul Dunne. Ryder Cup prospect
Kiradech Aphibarnrat. Everybody loves him
Andrew Johnston. Needs to start taking things seriously
Henrik Stenson. Bound to contend
Dylan Frittelli. Now one of the best on Tour
Haydn Porteous. Lacking only in confidence
Thorbjorn Olesen. Brilliant ball striker
Soon Lee. Terrific prospect
Li Haotong. Fabulously talented
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