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Decorated Thai star Thongchai Jaidee plans to add the Venetian Macau Open to his impressive collection of Asian Tour victories when he tees up at the Macau Golf and Country Club starting on Thursday. The three-time Asian Tour number one, a 13-time winner across the region, headlines a stellar field at the US$750,000 tournament which has received a wonderful boost following the title sponsorship from Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel.
Former Masters Tournament champion Ian Woosnam, two-time Macau Open winner Zhang Lian-wei of China, title holder Chan Yih-shin of Chinese Taipei and 14 of the top-20 players on the Order of Merit led currently by Adam Fraser of Australia will feature in this week's showpiece.
All eyes will be on Thongchai who made his last appearance in Macau some 11 years ago when he finished tied fourth. He has enjoyed an impressive season in 2012 so far, winning a first title on European soil in Wales in June and finishing tied 15th in Scotland last week.
"It's nice to be back. I've not been here for over 10 years. The course is very challenging. When it is windy, it will be difficult to play. It wasn't in my plans to play here but I received an invitation from the sponsors and I'm glad I came," said Thongchai, who is the top earner on the Asian Tour with over US$4 million in his career.
A series of niggling injuries have kept him from a full playing schedule this season but the Thai star said the forced break has given him the added impetus to shoot and match countryman Thaworn Wiratchant's record 14 career titles.
"After my injury, I didn't practice much. I think I was hungry to play again. I performed quite well last week. I'm excited about this week. I'm always trying to win. If I don't win, I'll try again," said Thongchai, who has been grouped with Thaworn and Fraser in the opening two rounds.
"I'm looking forward to having some fun. It's (The Venetian) an amazing hotel. I've not had a room like this before. It's so big. You can easily get lost in the hotel!"
Welshman Woosnam, the 1991 Masters Tournament champion, believes he can compete against the stars of the Asian Tour despite his focus now on the European Seniors Tour. Winner of 48 international titles, he will maintain a proud Macau Open tradition of attracting Major champions where the likes of Vijay Singh, Nick Faldo, Padraig Harrington, Nick Price, Mark O'Meara and Fred Couples have graced the fairways of Macau Golf and Country Club.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge. You have to manage yourself well on this course and get the ball in play. Obviously you have to hit it straight which I haven't been doing of late. I've got to try to get it straight off the tee," said the 54-year-old, whose career highlights include a memorable Ryder Cup win as the European Team captain in 2006.
"It's my first time visiting Macau. I'm enjoying it. The Venetian Hotel is magnificent. I'll have to find my best game (to have a chance of winning) but I'll be giving it 100 per cent. My aim is to make the cut first and then take it from there."
Title holder Chan is hoping to ride on the good vibes from last year's victory which was his second triumph on the Asian Tour. The 37-year-old has endured a luckless season so far with numerous missed cuts but a third place outing at the Mercuries Taiwan Masters two weeks ago has restored his confidence.
"I've got a good feeling. It is nice to see my pictures on the posters and promotional items which is very good. I've got a good feeling about this week again," he said.
"It is always nice to be back in a place where you've won. I know I haven't played well all season but I finished third at the Mercuries Taiwan Masters two weeks ago which gave me back some confidence. I hope to turn the corner but I won't make any excuses for myself."
Zhang has never missed a cut in the Venetian Macau Open since the event's inauguration in 1998. He won in 2001 and 2002 and posted six other top-10s. The 47-year-old, a five-time winner on the Asian Tour, will play with Woosnam and fellow veteran Frankie Minoza of the Philippines in the opening two rounds.
"I'm looking forward to playing with Ian. We've played together many times previously and he's a nice guy and a great golfer," said Zhang.
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