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Thai veteran star Boonchu Ruangkit hopes to continue surprising even himself when he competes against the young guns at the star-studded Thailand Golf Championship which begins on Thursday. The 56-year-old battle-hardened Boonchu picked up his third top-10 of the year at last week's King's Cup to move up to 54th place on the Asian Tour's Order of Merit, giving him every chance of becoming the oldest player to earn full exempt status in 2013.
But with a stellar field gathered for the US$1 million Asian Tour showpiece and a challenging Amata Spring Country Club which Boonchu lamented was "too long for an old man", he expects to face a big test.
Defending champion Lee Westwood of England, reigning Masters Tournament winner Bubba Watson of the United States, current Asian Tour Order of Merit winner Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand, Spaniard Sergio Garcia, American John Daly, former British Open champion Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, Simon Dyson of England Japanese ace Ryo Ishikawa and Belgian Ryder Cup star Nicholas Colsaerts, are amongst those who will headline the tournament.
Boonchu, known as the 'Godfather' amongst the Thai players, said: "I will try to play good and earn my full exempt status (by finishing in the top-60 of the Merit list) and show to the young Thai boys that if uncle Boonchu can do it, the young boys should also be able to do it."
Following a professional golf career which has spanned over 25 years, the five-time Asian Tour winner now takes a relax approach whenever he competes. He said maintaining a healthy diet and a constant stretching routine help keep him on top of his game.
"I keep fit and I make sure I eat good food. I do a lot of stretching to make sure I'm loose but my knees are not too strong now," said Boonchu.
"I don't do too much physical work because of that but it's more of keeping the muscles loose. I don't hit too many balls at the range, maybe 200 to 300 balls. There is no more pressure on me. Every week that I go into a tournament, I am just out to enjoy the golf and take whatever that comes my way. I'm very relaxed and I never force myself to play good. Always good to meet old friends," he smiled.
With the Thailand Golf Championship being the penultimate event of the season, the fight to finish in the top-60 of the rankings will intensify.
Migue Tabuena of the Philippines knows he has a battle on his hands where he enters the week in 78th place on the Order of Merit. Last year, he endured heartbreak in the event which was then the season-finale when he lost out on the final Tour card by one rung and a mere US$250.
"It is a really big event for the guys trying to keep their card including myself because it is a one million dollar event. I played well here last year (finishing tied 39th) but unfortunately I didn't save my card. Hopefully I can play better this week," said the 18-year-old.
"I'm not trying not to think about last year. It is part of the learning process. I want to go out in every tournament and give it my 110%. I want to make the cut first and see where I stand on the last two days," added Tabuena.
Thanyakon Khrongpha of Thailand, currently 72nd on the Order of Merit, is also in the same boat as Tabuena. The slender Thai enjoyed a solid run earlier in the year highlighted by two-top 10s but has since struggled with a cold putter which resulted in seven straight missed cuts.
The 22-year-old is also feeling the pressure as the race to the top-60 heats up. "My game is better compared to last year but my putting has been poor. This is a long course but I'm quite confident that I can shoot a low score. I feel more pressure compared to last year because I'm trying to save my card. I feel I have a good chance. I just hope to get my putter working," said Thanyakon.
After taking a two-week break from competitive golf, a re-energized Shiv Kapur of India, who has four top-five finishes on the Asian Tour this season, hopes to find that extra edge to end a frustrating seven-year title drought on the Asian Tour.
His lone victory came at the 2005 Volvo Masters of Asia in Thailand, hence he has good vibes whenever he is back in the Kingdom. "I really hope the win comes soon. You've got to be patient. I haven't won since 2005 but I had a few seconds and thirds. I've been up there on the business-end of the leaderboard so if I can keep doing that, then I feel the win is just around the corner," said Kapur.
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