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Jazz swings into the spotlight

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Defending champion Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand has the perfect opportunity to showcase his burgeoning talent and underscore his meteoric rise in the game when he plays alongside former world number one Justin Rose of England and in-form Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa in the opening rounds of the SMBC Singapore Open at Sentosa Golf Club on Thursday and Friday.

The 24-year-old Jazz moved into the top 100 in the world ranking for the first time after his two-shot victory over Paul Casey of England and Japan’s Yoshinori Fujimoto in last year’s SMBC Singapore Open and, brimful of confidence following that victory, went on to win three more times on the Asian Tour in 2019.

He finished fourth in a top field at last week’s Hong Kong Open to rise to 38th in the world, opening up limitless possibilities in the game.

“I think the SMBC Singapore Open last year was really good (for me) as I managed to get into the top 100 (in the world ranking), many tournaments and also offered me many new opportunities. I have to thank this tournament and I am really happy to be back this year,” said Jazz.

“I got the same locker as last year so hopefully this year the same magic happens.”

Jazz added that the SMBC Singapore Open was special to himself and the other players in many ways.

“It is the first tournament of the year and it is a big one. If you play well here, you can start to get the ball rolling for the year,” he said,

“There are a lot of learning points for this tournament. If you can win this tournament this week, you could move into the top 100 (in the world ranking). It is a very big week and a good start for the year. They said that if you win this week, you get (into) The Open, but honestly, you get a lot more than that.”

The SMBC Singapore Open, which has again attracted a world-class line up, is jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and Japan Tour and will be played over the magnificent Serapong course from January 16-19.

As an added incentive to the 156-man field, the SMBC Singapore Open is again part of The Open Qualifying Series with the top four non-exempt players earning spots in The 149th Open at Royal St George’s.

World number nine Rose is a formidable presence given his standing as a Major champion and Olympic gold medallist although the super confident Jazz is unlikely to be overawed.

Rose said that he built up some momentum when tying for fifth spot at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas last December and tried to maintain the surge by practicing over the Christmas period.

“This is the first time dusting off the clubs for 2020. I felt like I really started to get some momentum in the very back end of the year during the tournament in the Bahamas,” said Rose, whose Major victory came at the 2013 US Open.

“I felt like that was the tournament I really began to feel like I was hitting much more as I remembered. So when I managed to get the momentum, I didn’t really want to put my clubs down too much during Christmas. I went out and played more than I normally would just to keep a little bit of momentum up so I feel very clear with my swing.”

Ishikawa, a teen phenom who won his first Japan Tour event at aged 15, has a lot in common with Jazz, who turned professional just ahead of his 15th birthday, and rates him highly.

“Jazz is one of the greatest players on the Asian Tour. It is always a good experience to play with him, he has many (attributes) that I don’t have,” said Ishikawa, who burst back to prominence after a debilitating back injury with three victories on the Japan Tour last season.

“One thing is his mentality which is much stronger compared to three or four years ago. His game is getting so strong, he used to hit (his driver) 270 to 280 yards four years ago, but last year he hit more than 300 yards when I played with him.

“His build and height is less than mine but he is still hitting 300 yards which shows how good he is. I respect him and he has a huge chance to be the best golfer representing Thailand and he has a bright future in golf.”

Ishikawa lay second at the halfway mark of the SMBC Singapore Open last year and now that he is swinging more freely and feeling more confident about his game many pundits rate his chances this week.

To boast his recovery from injury, Ishikawa has taken up weight training, a discipline that he sidestepped in the past.

“I did not used to do intense weight training as I did not want my body to get stiff,” said the world number 83, who has won 17 times on the Japan Tour.

“However, In order to protect my lower back, I needed to do some intensive weight training for my hips. It has been seven months since I started, and my lower back has gotten stronger ever since.

“I feel physically stronger now. If you look at the top 10 golfers in the world, you can see that they are all physically gifted due to the training they undergo. I think I have been too dependent on the technical aspects and I need to find my idea of physical strength to build up my game through some physical training.”

Major winner Henrik Stenson of Sweden and Matt Kuchar of the United States also have title credentials and will be well supported at Sentosa Golf Club.

Stenson won his last event, the Hero World Challenge in December, when he eclipsed many of the best players in the world, including tournament host Tiger Woods.

While he is making his 2020 debut and is unsure how much the momentum from the win has slowed over the festive period, Kuchar has played the last two weeks on the PGA Tour in Hawaii and is tournament ready.

The cream of the Asian Tour and Japan Tour will also have a say in the outcome come Sunday with Gunn Charoenkul of Thailand one of those due a win after a run of top-five finishes on the Asian and Japan Tours.

“Overall, I’m very happy with my game and really looking forward to the SMBC Singapore Open,” he said.

“I’m really enjoying my time out there even though I’m not scoring anything. Winning will come where and when it’s time. So I just keep prepping myself out there and then when the time comes, I think I’ll take the win.”

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