Chiangmai, Thailand: Four-time Major winner Ernie Els of South Africa will revert to the short putter at the inaugural USD 750,000 Chiangmai Golf Classic starting here on Thursday as he seeks his first title of the current season.
"I'll be using the short putter. But even if I won here this week, I will use the belly putter at the Masters simply because the greens are so quick over there. But after the Masters, I'll try to use the short putter more regularly," said Els, who switched to the long putter at the end of 2011.
The reigning British Open champion headlines the full-field Asian Tour event alongside Asia's first Major winner Y E Yang of Korea, New Zealand's Michael Campbell and the region's top players including last week's winner Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Thongchai Jaidee, Arnond Vongvanij, Gaganjeet Bhullar and Anirban Lahiri at the immaculate Alpine Golf Resort-Chiangmai presented by PTT.
Els, nicknamed the Big Easy for his languid swing and easy-going nature, has been frustrated by his lack of success during the first quarter of the year. With the Masters Tournament looming, he is keen to get back into winning form.
"It's been slow. I haven't had good results but I'm practising quite a lot. I've played enough of mediocre golf so I'm looking forward to some good golf. It'll be nice to start here," said Els, who last played in Thailand in 2004.
With golf's ruling bodies proposing a ban to the anchored style of putting, Els, who won the British Open with a belly putter last July, arrived in the northern city of Chiangmai with a short putter in his bag.
The globe-trotting Els will use the Chiangmai Golf Classic as his final tune-up for the season's opening Major. He did not qualify for last year's Masters after 18 straight appearances but hopes a return to Augusta National after a year's gap will see him challenge for the coveted Green Jacket.
Leading Japanese stars Tetsuji Hiratsuka, who has won nine times in Asia and Japan, Masanori Kobayashi, last season's Rookie of the Year and Kenichi Kuboya are also tipped to contend in the newest event on the Asian Tour which is celebrating its milestone 10th season this year.
Els said he would take a more relaxed attitude to the Masters. "I think I used to put so much pressure on myself. And this year, I just want to enjoy it a bit more. I used to really try to win the tournament. I want to enjoy it and hopefully have my game there which I will have."
"My record in the Majors is quite good. But at the Masters, it hasn't been good in the last 10 years. After missing it last year and going back again this year, it feels like a new beginning. I want to try to enjoy it a bit more."
After last week's heroics at the Maybank Malaysian Open, big-hitting Kiradech, the current Order of Merit leader, reckons he has a good chance to maintain his form by winning for the second straight week at the Chiangmai Golf Classic.
"I'll try to finish high. Maybe I can win two weeks in a row," said the 23-year-old Kiradech, who has posted two other top-fives and qualified for the British Open this year.
"I'm still enjoying very good form. This golf course suits my game, suits long hitters. I was struggling for two years but now everything is good. I'm very happy to see a new Asian Tour event in Chiangmai. It is a big Asian Tour event and I'm very proud to be playing here," he added.
The experienced Hiratsuka has been hampered by a long-term neck injury which saw him retire in Malaysia last week. However, he is hoping his past success in Thailand where he has won twice will lead to a good week.
Other top Asian Tour names in the elite field include Bangladeshi Siddikur, Sri Lankan newcomer Mithun Perera, Thailand's Chawalit Plaphol of Thailand, Prom Meesawat, Prayad Marksaeng and Boonchu Ruangkit, China's Hu Mu and Filipino Angelo Que.