Singapore Open to feature world No. 1 Jordan Spieth

BEST FINISH BY A S'POREAN: M Murugiah (above) came in fourth to Australian Steven Conran in 1995.
PHOTO: AFP

Coincidence or conjured, it is a blessing that the 50th edition of golf's Singapore Open has an existing world No. 1 on its play list.

So the capture of American Jordan Spieth for a US$1 million ($1.43m) event - the lowest over the last 10 years - is a major coup for the national Open.

World No. 1s - Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson - have graced the event after they had lost that lofty status.

But Tiger Woods, who had the longest reign as world No. 1 (consecutive 281 weeks, total 683 weeks), could not be enticed to play in Singapore's top golf event.

Against that backdrop, this week's SMBC Singapore Open, teeing off today at Sentosa Golf Club's world-acclaimed Serapong course, has a special significance on its Golden Jubilee.

The officials at Lagardere Sports and Entertainment, who together with the Asian Tour and the Japan Golf Tour Organisation have brought the iconic event to our shores, must be commended for roping in Spieth - appearance fee or not.

Especially so because the Singapore Open had a three-year hiatus after previous title sponsor Barclays pulled out in 2013.

It is because of the absence of the event twice (from 2002 to 2004 and 2013 to 2015) that the Singapore Open celebrates its 50th year after its inauguration in 1961.

Favourite Spieth aside, there is a stellar cast with Major winners Yang Yong Eun and Darren Clarke and a host of names Jamie Donaldson, Shingo Katayama, Yuta Ikeda, Kim Kyung Tae, Liang Wenchong and former winner Jeev Milkha Singh primed to fight for the top prize.

GLORY DAYS

The presence of a host of Japanese and Taiwanese players brings with it a touch of history because in the glory days of the '60s and '70s, the Singapore Island Country Club's (SICC) Bukit course - for long a permanent venue - enjoyed an array of talent from north Asia.

No doubt, the tie-up with the lucrative Japan Tour brings about this phenomenon which could help the fans to hark back to the halcyon days when the Japanese, Taiwanese and Filipinos provided that fight to the Australians and Americans.

Names such as Haruo Yasuda, Takaaki Kono, Hsu Sheng-san, Hsieh Min-nam, Hsieh Yung-yo, Chen Tze-ming and the Filipino duo of Ben Arda and Eleuterio Nival raised the Asian flag on several occasions in this event.

The fact that two previous British Open champions - Australians Peter Thomson and Kel Nagle - never won the Singapore Open is a testimony to the prestige of the tournament that made Sime Road a driver's nightmare to the SICC because of the huge crowds.

Five-time British Open winner Thomson and Nagle's impressive feat of winning one tournament every year from 1949 to 1975 were annual cliches that gave golf writers plenty to digest.

In the same breath, in the history of the event, no South Korean - despite the worldwide reputation garnered by KJ Choi and Yang Yong Eun - has won the event.

No Singaporean has also done so, the closest being M Murugiah who finished fourth to Australian Steven Conran in 1995 at the Bukit course and was hailed as the Man of the Moment.

Murugiah was my Sembawang Country Club pro, so I followed him on a few holes on the final day during which he showed class and a temperament seldom seen in local professionals.

After rounds of par 71, 69 and 69, he was lying 14th. In the final round, he bagged six birdies against one bogey for a 66.

During that masterful final round, he hit a sensational three-wood shot on the 204-metre part-three 12th that stopped just short as the ball was rolling towards the hole - he missed an ace.

A US$25,872 pay cheque was handsome booty for the then 31-year-old, who said: "I've never played so solidly from tee to green before.

"Several factors were in my favour. Because rain washed out almost two days of play, we all had to play 36 holes on the other days.

BUOYED

"This is just nice for me for I do it almost daily during practice. Also, I was really buoyed by more than 100 friends walking with me today.

"Talking and joking with them helped me keep calm."

So will our best hope and No. 1 golfer, Mardan Mamat, do us proud this time?

After a nine-hole practice round at Serapong on Tuesday, a relaxed Mardan, 48, told me: "I'm on the road to recovery with my shoulder injury.

"I'm sure there'll be lots of expectations from the home crowd, but I'm old enough to know how to handle this kind of pressure."

Spoken like a champion, Mardan.

godfrey@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on January 28, 2016.
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