INDIAN, SRI LANKAN STARS TO CHALLENGE EAST ASIAN DOMINANCE

BANGKOK –Indian duo Khalin Joshi and Senapaa Chikkarangappa, and Sri Lankan star Nadaraja Thangaraja are among South Asia’s leading hopes at this week’s fourth Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, which begins on Thursday at Amata Spring Country Club in Thailand.

Joshi, Thangaraja and Chikkarangappa are Asia’s Nos. 3, 4 and 5, respectively, in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, and they will look to end the dominance of East Asia at the prestigious event.

Hideki Matsuyama, of Japan, Asia’s top-ranked amateur, will attempt to win a third successive title, while Pan Cheng-tsung, of Chinese Taipei, Asia’s No. 2, is also among the favourites. The winner earns an invitation to the 2013 Masters Tournament, while the champion and runner(s)-up earn spots in next year’s International Final Qualifying (IFQ) for The Open Championship.

The in-form Joshi, 20, has been India’s dominant amateur in 2012 having won last month’s Southern India Open Amateur by 14 strokes after victories at the Western India Amateur, Inter State Championship and Samarvir Sahi Championship earlier this year.

The Bangalore golfer proved his mettle against Asia-Pacific’s finest by finishing third in last year’s Nomura Cup in Fiji and believes he has a solid chance of winning this week.

“I’m playing pretty well and had a decent week at the Indian Open. I’m looking forward to this week and I’m hoping to win because my dream has always been to play at the Masters,” said Joshi, who finished joint 40th in the Asian Tour event along with Honey Baisoya, one of the six-strong India team.

“I’m pretty confident. I’ve heard a lot about this golf course from the Indian pros like Gaganjeet Bhullar and Anirban Lahiri. It has good greens and is pretty long, so it favours the long hitters and I’m a decent driver of the ball. They say if you hit the ball long and straight, you will be in with a good chance. Senapaa is also playing well; actually, all six of us are playing pretty well.”

Joshi recognises Matsuyama will be the man to beat and says the Japanese star’s prowess on Amata Spring’s greens could make the difference.

“I know Matsuyama as he was a part of our team in the Michael Bonallack Trophy in Portugal,” Joshi said. “I’ve got to know him pretty well. He’s a great golfer and a great guy. The main difference is his putting – his putting is unbelievable. The key to scoring is the short game and the putter is the key club. Putting will be key this week.”

Chikkarangappa, who finished 26th in the Indian Open, has been runner-up to Joshi on several occasions this year. However, he won last month’s Tamilnadu Amateur Open and was India’s dominant amateur last year when he won the East India, Southern India and Western India titles. He was sixth in the Nomura Cup, helping India win bronze in the team competition.

The two Bangalore players along with compatriots Baisoya and Angad Cheema return for this year’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship after all made the cut in Singapore last year, and are joined by first-timers Udayan Mane and Manav Das at Amata Spring.

Thangaraja is also one to watch after winning his country’s 125th Open Amateur Men’s Golf Championship last month to add to his victory in the 51st Pakistan National Amateur Championship in April. In August, he was also runner-up in the Singapore Open Amateur Championship.

The experienced Sri Lankan, who finished 36th last year, is joined by compatriots Masanam Arumugam, Navinda Ranga, Sisira Kumara, Vijitha Bandara and BA Rohana.

While Matsuyama and his compatriots will look to keep the trophy in Japan, a six-strong line-up of players from Korea are hoping to emulate compatriot Han Chang-won, winner of the inaugural championship in 2009.

Lee Soo-min is aiming to go one better after finishing runner-up to Matsuyama last year and is in excellent form. Lee won last month’s Korean Amateur and was Asia’s second-highest finisher in the World Amateur Team Championship in Turkey earlier this month.

“My putting is not as good now as it was during the Korean Amateur, but if I can putt as well as then, then I believe I can do better than last year and win,” Lee said.

“I played Amata Spring during Open Championship qualifying in March and this course is longer than most in Korea. This is an advantage for me because my driving and long irons are my strength.”

Andy Shim Hyeon-bo, Asia’s No. 6, will make his championship debut boosted by his U.S. Junior Amateur victory in July when he beat 2010 winner Jim Liu 4 and 3 in the 36-hole final, rebounding from a five-hole deficit to complete the event’s biggest comeback.

Lee Chang-woo, 16th in Singapore last year, was Asia’s top performer in this month’s World Amateur Team Championship, helping Korea finish joint third, while

Lee Tae-wan, a high-school senior who lives in Orlando, Florida, is also competing for the second time, after finishing seventh last year. Newcomers Kim Gyu-bin and Peter Koo Kyo-won round out the Korean contenders.

California-based Dou Zecheng, 13-year-old Guan Tianlang and Cheng Jin form a young but exciting trio from China. Dou, one of the top juniors in the United States, won the Boys 13-14 division in last year’s Junior World Golf Championships in San Diego, where Guan won the 11-12 division by 11 strokes.

Guan went on to make international headlines at April’s China Open when the Guangzhou native became the youngest player to compete on the European Tour, at the age of 13 years and 173 days. Cheng won this year’s Jack Nicklaus Junior Championship at the Mission Hills Golf Club in Shenzhen in May.

The Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship will feature up to 120 players from the APGC’s 36 member associations. Television coverage will include two hours of live broadcast on each of the four days and a 30-minute highlights show, and will be aired in more than 150 countries, confirming it as the world’s most televised amateur golf tournament.

STAR Sports will broadcast live coverage on all four days in Thailand (3.00pm-5.00pm) and many other countries and territories across Asia. Tokyo Broadcasting System (Japan), SBS Golf (Korea), Guangdong Golf Channel (China), Fox Sports (Australia), Sky Sports (New Zealand) and Fox Sports (Middle East) will cover other key markets in the Asia-Pacific region.

The championship will be shown live in the United States (4.00am-6.00am Eastern Time) on ESPNU (November 1-2) and then ESPN2 (November 3-4). Other broadcasters include ESPN (Latin America), Supersport (Africa), TSN (Canada) and CNBC Europe. All of the coverage will also be streamed live on the official event Web site, www.AACgolf.com.

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