It’s been almost 20 months since a shot was struck on the Asian Tour thanks to Covid 19 but that all changes this week in Thailand.
The inaugural Blue Canyon Phuket Championship marks the return of the Tour though no official schedule beyond this event, next week’s Laguna Phuket event and the Saudi International in February next year has been confirmed.
Regardless, this week’s return has created plenty of excitement among local fans and a sense of relief among players keen to get back to genuine competition.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Inaugural event.
COURSE: The tournament may be new but the venue is familiar, the Blue Canyon Golf Club hosting some of Asian golf’s most memorable moments.
RIGHT: Scott Hend is a 10-time winner on the Asian Tour and has been in Thailand in the lead-up to the circuit's resumption this week. PHOTO: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images.
Tiger Woods’ 1998 appearance at the Johnnie Walker Classic – where he came from eight shots behind on Sunday to beat Ernie Els in a play-off – remains legendary.
A plaque at the 13th hole celebrates Woods’ heroic shot to drive the green at the par-4 which plays across a deep gorge, a shot many have tried to replicate but few have succeeded.
‘Thrilling’ is the word most often used to describe the Blue Canyon course, a particularly apt description for its back nine holes.
Laid out over an old rubber plantation (front nine) and a former tin mine (back nine), it is the latter which boasts some dramatic features.
The aforementioned 13th is one example, the par-3 14th and it’s tiny, reverse ‘L’ shaped island green another.
Once considered the undisputed best course in Thailand, Blue Canyon’s reputation has suffered in recent years as newer courses have opened and its own condition deteriorated.
However, Club Chairman Praphant Asava-aree says the club used the pandemic to undertake major course improvement works with all tees and fairways renovated.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: A decent field will be on hand in Thailand this week including several Australians likely to be among the contenders.
Local star Jazz Janewattananond will be the favourite with many and as the defending Order of Merit champion that is as it should be.
He’s a six-time winner on the Asian Tour and was T4 at his most recent start in Dubai two weeks ago so brings confidence and form to the week.
A smattering on international players will also expect to be in the frame, current Order of Merit leader Wade Ormsby among them.
Ormsby’s second Hong Kong Open win came just three weeks before the Tour shut down and while his form in Europe hasn’t been great in 2021 much of that can likely be attributed to the challenges of international travel during Covid.
Playing closer to home and after a decent break since his last event at Wentworth in October, Ormsby will be refreshed and ready to play.
Americans John Catlin and Trevor Simsby will expect to be at the business end of the leaderboard Sunday, Simsby the last player to win on the Tour back in 2020.
Simsby won the Malaysian Open on March 8 last year and no tournaments have been played since.
Catlin has been a regular on the Asian Tour since graduating from the development Tour in 2017.
He is a four-time Tour winner but since his last victory in Asia has added three European Tour titles to his resume.
A T9 finish at last week’s European Tour grand finale in Dubai suggests he is playing well and it would be a surprise if he wasn’t in the reckoning come Sunday.
COURSE RECORD: 64 (Greg Norman, 1994 Johnnie Walker Classic)
PAST AUSSIE WINNERS: No Australian has won this event.
AUSTRALIANS IN THE FIELD: Sam Brazel, Cory Crawford, Ben Eccles, David Gleeson, Will Heffernan, Scott Hend, Jake Higginbottom, Andrew Martin, Wade Ormsby, Travis Smyth, Josh Younger and Kevin Yuan.
Round 1: Thursday (Fox Sports 503 LIVE 5pm – 9pm)
Round 2: Friday (KAYO LIVE 5pm)
Round 3: Saturday (KAYO LIVE 4pm)
Round 4: Sunday (KAYO LIVE 4pm)
*AEDT, check local guides