Mardan Mamat's a home favourite for the The World Classic Championship
Mardan has sweet memories of the Masters' 18th, finishing hole for World Classic event
Sitting at the Nest, the new and fabulous dining deck that overlooks the 18th hole of the Masters course at Laguna National, Mardan Mamat was in reflective mood yesterday.
Over coffee, after the pro-am event of the US$750,000 ($1.05m) The World Classic Championship, Mardan brought his mind back almost 10 years ago when he won the Osim Masters, a European Tour event.
Ironically - the Singapore No. 1 golfer would like to believe it is a good omen - the Asian Tour event, starting today, at the more challenging World Classic course, finishes at the Masters' 18th.
For better spectatoring, with a larger area for hospitallity tents, play switches over to the Masters at the ninth and 18th holes.
The Masters' 18th has a special place in Mardan's heart because he created history there by becoming the first Singaporean to win an European Tour event.
In March 2006, he sank a vital putt to roars of approval by a 3,000 crowd and put Singapore on the continental golf map, while pocketing a cool $271,300.
Mardan said: "I can still remember what happened. I drove into the right light rough, my approach went slightly beyond the green and I executed a magnificent chip to one feet for the memorable one-shot triumph.
"The crowd went wild, my supportive wife Naz ran towards me and hugged me, and I shed tears of joy."
No doubt, 16 holes on a tortuous and tricky 6,935-yard layout dubbed "The Beast", is a different propositon.
And Mardan, who turned 48 on Oct 31, knows that one bad hole can affect one's composure and ruin a card.
He said: "The Masters is more forgiving. On the World Classic you must find the right landing areas and putt really well.
"And risk-taking is out, for it can make a difference of more than one shot."
Mardan, who hopes that his injured right shoulder will hold as he manoeuvres the familiar course, understands that there will be added pressure on him as local fans pin their hopes on their number one hope.
The biggest challenge for Mardan comes from a host of in-form players from India, Thailand and Malaysia.
Leading the challenge is India's Jeev Milkha Singh, a six-time Asian Tour winner who also won the Barclays Singapore Open in 2008 at Sentosa's Serapong course.
"I always enjoy coming to Singapore. It's a beautiful country with each visit made even more special with my good results over the years here," said Jeev.
Thailand has a powerful line-up led by veteran Thaworn Wiratchant, who is ably supported by Jazz Janewattananond, Chapchai Nirat, Chinnarat Phadungsil, Chawalit Plaphol and Prom Meesawat.
Malaysia's Danny Chia is a good outsider who ended his 13-year title drought after last month's Taiwan Masters triumph.
The Malaysian No. 1 knows the World Classic course well, having played the Causeway Cup on the undulating layout on several occasions.
Yet, even he concedes that Mardan is the player to watch because "he always does well with home support".
IMG present for local pros
The IMG sprang a surprise yesterday by handing over a US$10,000 sanction fee to the Singapore Professional Golfers' Association (SPGA).
"It is our way of thanking the local professionals for taking part in the World Classic Championship," said Andrew Wood (above), IMG's director of sales.
He added: "We want to promote golf in the region, and the SPGA has played its part in ensuring that there is a pool of talent despite difficult circumstances like finding sponsors."
SPGA president M. Murugiah was delighted by the gesture, saying: "My committee and I are heartened by the appreciation.
"With the early Christmas present, my committee and I have decided that we will give each of the 14 local players representing Singapore $300 for the event."
Among the 14 players is youngster Eugene Sim, 22, who was handed a slot as Murugiah, 51, decided to give his up.
"Although I am seventh on the SPGA Order of Merit, I feel that it is time for me to focus on senior golf and provide opportunities for youngsters," said Murugiah.
IMG praise for Laguna National
The efficiency and professionalism shown by Laguna National in organising the World Classic Championship within a short time has received praise.
It came from IMG, originally known as International Management Group, an events and talent management group.
IMG's director of sales Andrew Wood said yesterday: "This Asian Tour event was scheduled for Indonesia at this time.
"But there was no sponsor and we had to shift the event.
"We are grateful that Laguna National, with whom we have had great relations, has agreed to host the event within such a short time, in fact, few weeks.
"And that too, at a time when the club is undergoing renovations that help it stage big events in the futire.
"We have some long-term projects coming up with the club, and this is a good start towards a long, good association."
Laguna National's executive director Kevin Kwee (inset), who was seen shuttling players and officials in buggies, said: "We have good ties with IMG.
"And whatever we do it is for the benefit of golf, and a lift for Singapore."