26 March, 2019: Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat can’t wait to get back into match play and head-to-head competition mode this week.
No one can fault him as he has endured a topsy-turvy run of form but the US$10.25 million World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play starting on Wednesday will offer the 29-year-old a rare opportunity to compete in a format which has given him plenty of success.
Kiradech, the first Thai to hold a PGA TOUR card, enjoyed an impressive run here last season, finishing T5 at Austin Country Club after battling into the quarterfinals where he bowed out to eventual winner Bubba Watson. Two of his European Tour victories have also been in match play tournaments.
After being grouped with Bryson DeChambeau, Russell Knox and Marc Leishman, whom he plays in his first match on Wednesday morning, the big-hitting Kiradech is keen to jump onto another hot run here.
“This week you get the top 64 players, all great players. Whoever I play will be tough and challenging. Bryson has been one of the hottest golfers in the past few months which is opposite to me as I’ve not played my best golf the last three months,” said Kiradech.
“In match play though, anything can happen. Marc is one of the great international players and Russell has won big events in Europe and also a World Golf Championships event. I think they will also look at me in the same way as to beat me in match play won’t be easy.”
He concedes his debut season on the PGA TOUR has been scratchy so far. He has enjoyed two top-5s in World Golf Championships events, the WGC-HSBC Champions in China and WGC-Mexico Championship but has missed almost half the cuts in the events he’s played so far, including THE PLAYERS Championship two weeks ago where he shot contrasting rounds of 84 and 69.
Kiradech also took a putting lesson with putting coach Gary Raflewski last week, hoping it will improve his conversion rate on the short grass in Austin. “I’m not happy with the results or with the way I’m playing. I’m still positive as I’ve nearly got my TOUR card for next season. There’s less pressure but my form is like a roller-coaster. My short game, my putting has not been good. But we know putting can turn around in a week.
“It can get hot and change everything. Last week, I paid more attention to my game, hit a lot of balls and I feel better. I’ve brought a few putters and I also had my first putting lesson in my life with Gary. It is hard to make changes but if I can do it right, it’ll be good,” he said.
Kiradech has good vibes whenever he tees it up at the Pete Dye-designed Austin Country Club which has been touted by many as the perfect venue for a match play event. “I holed a lot of putts and beat a lot of great players on this course,” said the Thai, who holds a record of six victories and two losses here.
“I remember all the good things. I think I’ve also got a good record in match play … who knows maybe it might be my week. I like making lots of birdies, and it doesn’t matter if you make bogeys in this format. There is a bunch of birdies out here. However, if you make a lazy mistake, it can hurt. This course suits my type of game.”
Other leading Asians in the elite field here include Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and Satoshi Kodaira, China’s Haotong Li and Korean duo Byeong Hun An and Si Woo Kim, who made it into the last eight stage here last year.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, 2018 FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose, reigning PGA TOUR Player of the Year Brooks Koepka, THE PLAYERS Championship 2019 winner Rory McIlroy, 80-time PGA TOUR winner Tiger Woods and former Texas Longhorn Jordan Spieth are among the notables competing in Austin.
Woods, a three-time winner of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, is making his first start in the event since 2013. Bubba Watson is the defending champion.
As one in a series of four World Golf Championships events sanctioned and organized by the operational committee of the International Federation of PGA Tours, which includes the Asian Tour, European Tour, Japan Golf Tour, PGA TOUR, PGA Tour of Australasia and Sunshine Tour, the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is one of the most exciting and biggest events on golf’s calendar.