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World number six Lee Westwood is ready to reprise his record-breaking form when he defends his title at the US$1 million Thailand Golf Championship which starts on Thursday. The Englishman romped to a stylish seven-stroke victory at the Amata Spring Country Club last year, highlighted by an opening round of 12-under-par 60 for a new course record where he came close to firing the Asian Tour's first ever 59.
With the Asian Tour's showpiece being his final event of 2012, Westwood is keen to end his year on a high note by capturing a third victory of the season against a stellar field which includes reigning Masters Tournament champion Bubba Watson, last year's runner-up Charl Schwartzel, Japan's Ryo Ishikawa, Ryder Cup stars Nicolas Colsaerts and Sergio Garcia, 2011 British Open champion Darren Clarke and the Asian Tour's top stars led by current number one Thaworn Wiratchant.
"Yeah, lots of great memories. I supposed shooting 60 in the first round was fairly memorable and then following up with a 64 to lead by 11 after two rounds, I can't think when that has ever happened," said the 39-year-old Westwood.
Westwood believes another 60 could be on the cards although the picturesque par-72 course is playing longer and tougher due to the rain in recent weeks and the thicker rough which lines the fairways.
"I was thinking of a 57 since it's soft out there and the greens are holding," Westwood cheekily replied when asked if he was eyeing another 60. "I've only shot 60 once in my life. That was special. You need everything to go right most of the time. It's been done once and it can be done again."
He rated his year as "steady but not spectacular" despite two wins in Indonesia and Sweden and playing a role in Europe's amazing Ryder Cup victory over the United States in September.
"My game is pretty good. I finished sixth in the WGC (HSBC Champions in China) and fifth last week (Nedbank Challenge in South Africa). It's ticking over. My game is not as good as I like it but I'm making some changes. The second half of the year has been volatile. There's not been a lot of continuity. It's been steady but not spectacular this year.
"It was a strong field last year and a strong field again this year. (But) I want to finish the year strongly with a win but it's that time of the year when I'm getting a bit tired," he said.
Westwood took time to pay tribute to the Asian Tour and Asian golfers for the rapid growth of the game in the Far East. "The Tour over here has made massive strides and it's shown around the world on different channels now and it's helped Asian golfers become more worldly kind of players and they can compete overseas," he said.
South Africa's Schwartzel, the Masters champion in 2011, has bounced back to form in recent weeks following bouts with injuries and he hopes to go one better in this week's Thailand Golf Championship after playing second fiddle to Westwood 12 months ago.
"I've been playing injury free the past month and a half and am able to swing the club better. I've played nicely the past few weeks. It's been fifth, third, second and hopefully first this week!" he smiled.
"I had a great year last year and had a good time here. But Lee was so far ahead after two rounds, we were playing for second spot. I was happy to get the invite to come back and see if I can get one better than last year."
The slender South African does not think another 60 is possible with the way the course is playing. "When Lee shot 60, he didn't miss many fairways, didn't miss many greens and didn't miss many putts. That's as simple as it is. It doesn't matter how tough the course is as if you can do that, you will shoot a good score. It's hard to see 60 even last year, let's be honest. If you play well, it's closer to 64," said Schwartzel, who is searching for his first title since his Masters triumph.
Colsaerts, the first Belgian to play in the Ryder Cup, will be amongst the favourites, especially with his big-hitting game likely to give him an edge over the stellar field. "There are a lot of doglegs which the long hitters can take a short cut. It is going to be an advantage for us if you drive it long and know where exactly you need to go," said Colsaerts, who has one win and 11 top-10s this year.
"I won the Matchplay which was a big win for me. It was a year of confirmation that I can play at this level. it is pretty exciting to play in a new tournament," he said.
After becoming the youngest player in Japan to reach 10 career victories recently, the 24-year-old Ishikawa hopes to contend against the big boys at Amata Spring. "I'm swinging the club pretty good. This is going to be a big week for me," said Ishikawa, who notched two tied sixth finishes in the past two weeks in Japan.
Former British Open champion Clarke is battling blisters in his foot but certainly hopes to keep them on the pedal to turn around his form which has yet to see him post a single top-10 after securing his Major triumph.
"My season is no where near where I would have liked it to be. Such is golf. You work and work but I feel that my swing is in pretty good shape. Hopefully next year will be better than this year," said the Ulsterman.
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