Maybank Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, defending champion Shubhankar Sharma and top ranked Malaysian Gavin Green golfer head a decent field at the fourth playing of the Maybank Championship at Saujana Golf & Country Club. It was at this event last year that Sharma announced himself to the world.
Sharma was a worthy winner of “The Tiger Trophy” last year and he has used his Maybank Championship success to forge his way to the top of the Asian Tour Order of Merit. The victory helped catapult him up the world rankings and into the field for The Masters, the four World Golf Championships events and earn his European Tour card in the process, as well as being named Rookie of the Year. 2018 was a year that he will never forget, but he would be the first to admit that it all left him in something of a daze and he has struggled with his form of late.
He will no doubt hope that returning to the scene of his victory will bring back some great memories and help to get his game and his confidence back on track. The tournament was won in 2016 by Marcus Fraser, of Australia, in 2017 by Fabrizio Zanotti and last year by Sharma. What all three of those players have in common is that they are shotmakers rather than bombers, and Saujana has a reputation for rewarding those who keep the ball in the fairway. The grainy greens also take some getting used to.
The 156-field make-up embraces an all-new category for this tournament, with 15 players from the top 150 of the Official World Golf Ranking qualifying solely on merit. They join another 60 players drawn from both the Asian Tour and European Tour.
By retaining the iconic ASEAN category, the Maybank Championship has elevated its player field and made it inclusive of world-class players from all the federations. A string of players from Australia, China, New Zealand and South Korea - some of them with an eye on making the Presidents Cup team later this year - will also add significantly to the international composition of the tournament.
Arguably, it is the inclusion of Els and Harrington that will capture the imagination of the fans as they await the fourth edition of the Maybank Championship. It is fitting too that included in the field at the US$3 million event in Kuala Lumpur are players of top quality at an event whose tagline is “Where the Best Meet.”
Datuk Abdul Farid Alias, Group President and CEO of Maybank, said: “The inclusion of the game’s most active global player Ernie ‘Big Easy’ Els, as well as three-time Major winner and recently appointed European Ryder Cup captain, Padraig Harrington, underscores our objective to feature some of the best players in the world at this premier golf tournament.
“Having our defending champion, Shubhankar Sharma, Maybank’s ASEAN ambassador Gavin Green, Japan’s prince of golf Ryo Ishikawa and ‘Babyface Assassin’ Poom Saksansin in the field, also reaffirms our objective of providing a platform for Asian stars to shine. There is no doubt they will add tremendous character to the championship, even by just being here in Kuala Lumpur. But that is not all. The championship will showcase not only the best in golf, but also present a strong essence of our event DNA with delightful cuisine and lifestyle elements of the finest tastes at the week-long event.
“Essentially, the Maybank Championship embraces these spheres of sport and life in a tournament that is family-orientated. The championship is a week where all get to enjoy, watch and experience a first-class event – on and off the course.”
Green, the Asian Tour’s out-going number one having won the 2017 Order of Merit which also earned him full playing rights on the European Tour in 2018, will similarly be aiming to get his season off to a sound start.
He said: “This is Maybank’s flagship golf tournament and for us who are playing on home soil, we all want to do our best and put that extra bit of effort into it.
“It is a European Tour co-sanctioned event and because of that it features some of the world’s leading players, making it even more difficult to win. But we will give it our shot and see what happens.”
With a list of some of the world’s leading golfers at Saujana, drawn from almost 30 nations, the Maybank Championship looks set for another entertaining and enthralling tournament. Unsurprisingly, it inspires a mix of international and Asian golfers in a truly world-class Malaysian championship.
It is easy to believe that Els and Harrington are cruising towards the Champions Tour but make no mistake about it - both these men can still play. Harrington enjoyed some decent results on the European Tour last season and is still capable of showing the young guns how to do it. He remains a terrific competitor and is still a beautiful ball striker who, on his day, is capable of winning anywhere. Els, of course, is renowned for his beautiful golf swing, which hasn’t altered one iota since he first burst onto the scene. His putting woes are well documented and if it were not for his troubles on the greens he would still be hoovering up titles all over the globe. But it only takes one decent week to change all that and Els is a proud man who will tell you that he doesn’t play anywhere unless he believes he can still win.
Equally as impressive a ball striker is the Austrian Bernd Wiesberger. He spent much of last year battling a debilitating wrist injury and has seen his world ranking tumble as a result. The road back has not been a smooth one but Wiesberger has worked incredibly hard during the winter and it is surely only a matter of time before he is back where he belongs.
Thomas Pieters. Gradually rediscovering his best form
Brandon Stone. Glorious golf swing
Thomas Pieters. Surely due another win soon
Brandon Stone. Inconsistency is baffling
Aaron Rai. Brilliant young English golfer
Bernd Wiesberger. Looking for a way back
Thomas Detry. Has the potential to be a superstar
Chris Wood. Enjoys playing in this part of the world
Romain Wattel. Underrated
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