KUALA LUMPUR: England’s Danny Willett seeks further fuel for his rapid rise in world golf at this week’s inaugural Maybank Championship Malaysia, where he heads a field including past Major champions Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer.
Willett arrives in Kuala Lumpur on a tide of momentum following a win two weeks ago in the Dubai Desert Classic and a handful of other top-10 finishes in recent months.
The 28-year-old has soared from 47th a year ago to world no.13 and is the highest-ranked player in a Malaysian field that also features top-50 players Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, and Englishmen Chris Wood and Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Willett showed his championship mettle by clinching a one-shot victory in Dubai with a tricky 15-foot putt on the final hole.
It was his fourth career win and lifted him from 19th in the world rankings to within striking distance of the top 10.
Willett admitted he is still acclimating to his new status and that “expectations are obviously high after how well I’ve been playing recently.”
“Winning does take a lot out of you, physically and mentally,” he said.
But he added that a week off at home in England had left him refreshed.
Running on adrenaline
“When you’re running on adrenalin, you don’t tend to feel the little niggles and the aches and pains that can build up. So it was nice to have last week off to recover and recharge the batteries,” he said.
The $3 million tournament at the Royal Selangor Golf Club, co-sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours who are in ongoing talks over a proposed merger into a mega-tour, is the successor to the longtime Malaysian Open, which has been discontinued due to a sponsorship shift.
Both Oosthuizen, now the world number 21, and Kaymer, who is ranked 36, will be trying to bounce back after missing the cut in windy conditions in Dubai.
“I struggled with my ball flight (in Dubai) and when it’s windy that’s the last thing you want to happen,” said Oosthuizen, of South Africa.
The early-year appearance in Malaysia typically offers a special challenge for Western golfers due to the humid conditions and jet lag, and Oosthuizen said Tuesday he was “struggling to stay awake”.
But he added that it may be “a good omen”, noting that he ended up winning the Malaysian Open in 2012 after rushing in following a playoff at the US Masters against eventual champion Bubba Watson.
Willett, Germany’s Kaymer, and others from Europe also are keen to burnish their Ryder Cup credentials in the presence of European captain Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, who also will be competing in Malaysia.
The $3 million Maybank Championship Malaysia has a winner’s purse of $500,000 and is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.