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Jeev the face of Asian golf

December 20, 2006 15:26 IST

Changing the Face of Golf was the Asian Tour's bold, new tagline in 2006 and the striking image of Jeev Milkha Singh came to the forefront in the region's greatest golf season yet.

In a year that saw a record of 27 events offering an all-time high US $24 million in prize-money, Singh's spectacular return to form in which he claimed a maiden UBS Order of Merit title and four victories around the globe dominated the season that included numerous milestones.

Hopes are now high for Asia's best players to challenge for a first Major in the near future, especially with established stars including Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand, Korea's Charlie Wi, Jyoti Randhawa and Shiv Kapur of India, and young turks Prom Meesawat and Chinarat Phadungsil of Thailand and Filipino Juvic Pagunsan enjoying fulfilling seasons.

"We are delighted with how our players have performed this season, both at home and abroad," said Kyi Hla Han, the Asian Tour's Executive Chairman. "Our top players have played some outstanding golf and it is also fantastic that our younger players have also been winning regularly.

"From a playing perspective, it has certainly been a fantastic season, without a doubt one of our better years where our players have performed consistently. Jeev has enjoyed a great season and the international stage awaits him now.

"The golfing world is beginning to take more notice of Asia. This is a strong sign that our players can now compete against the best players and it will only be a matter of time before an Asian player wins a Major. That would be the next step," he added.

Jeev Milkha SinghAfter a seven-year winless run, Singh claimed the Volvo China Open title in Beijing in April which sparked a terrific run of form. He went on to win Europe's season-ending Volvo Masters in Spain followed by back-to-back triumphs in Japan during a six-week purple patch from late October. Additionally, he also posted 15 other top-10s on three different Tours.

Starting the year in a lowly 376th place on the Official World Golf Ranking, Singh will enter 2007 as the 37th-ranked player and he will enjoy starts in all four Majors, including dream debuts at the US Masters and British Open.

"It's been a dream year for me," said Singh. "I think Asians have a lot of talent and that they can play with the best in the world.  They just need to come out and play with the best in the world.

"I've won on three different Tours this season, it can't get any better than this. God has been good to me. It's been a perfect year."

Han feels that Singh's success will inspire Asians to go global.

"Jeev has proven that Asians can play with the best following his outstanding win in the Volvo Masters, which was certainly huge for us. It's inspiring."

Singh will end 2006 as the new king of Asian golf, amassing a record US $591,884 from 14 starts on the Asian Tour. The earning power on the world's fastest growing circuit grew considerably as well with an unprecedented 41 players breaking the US$100,000 mark in winnings.

Some of the most memorable moments of 2006 include Mardan Mamat's emotional triumph at the OSIM Singapore Masters where he became the first Singaporean player to win a co-sanctioned event with Europe.

Korea's Charlie Wi and Yang Yong-eun also prevailed in joint-sanctioned events, with Wi lifting the Maybank Malaysian Open title and Yang stunning the world's stars including Tiger Woods at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

But Han is equally excited about the talents coming through on the Asian Tour. Prom, 22, claimed a maiden title at the SK Telecom Open in Korea and finished a career-high third on the UBS Order of Merit, 18-year-old Chinarat won the Crowne Plaza Open in China to add to his home win at the Double A International Open in 2005 while Pagunsan finished seventh on the final UBS Order of Merit.

"Players like Chowrasia, Pagunsan, Chinarat and Prom have shown that they are gifted prospects," said Han.

"While we marvelled as Asia's established names finding success this year, the future certainly looks bright as well with a growing band of talented young players stamping their mark.

"In 2007, it promises to be even more exciting. We've confirmed an impressive schedule of 29 events with over US $26 million, both which will be new milestones, and this includes visiting new and exciting destinations in places like Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia.

"The Tour will strive to create more playing opportunities for our talented members and hopefully this will eventually lead to one of us winning a Major in the near future.

"It won't be long," predicted Han.