There's somewhat of a Scandinavian theme - and Swedish in particular - for the inaugural True Thailand Classic preview this week.
A number of top Swedish pros are ambassadors for or sponsored by Black Mountain golf club in Thailand, and said club have also been official exhibition partners for the Nordea Scandinavian Masters. To fuel the relationship, the pristine Thailand track annually hosts the Black Mountain Invitational - a Nordic Tour pro-am event, won in 2014 by Bjorn Hellgren, and in 2013 by Johan Edfors - two of the current team there.
Anirban Larihi - 21.00 - led a strong Asian Challenge in at the Malaysian Open last week and eventually got the job done, ousting the likes of Lee Westwood and Bernd Wiesberger in the process. Lahiri has form at Black Mountain and will be looking to pick up where he left off. At the head of the market though is the Scandinavian Alex Noren - 13.00 - back fit and firing after injury, while old-timer Miguel Jimenez - 31.00 - returns to Thailand for the first time in over a decade, after lifting the Johnnie Walker Championship.
A man at the top of his form right now and catching the eye towards the front of the market is Spaniard Alejandro Canizares - 31.00. I cast my mind back to the windy conditions in Morocco for the Trophee Hassan and the likely blustery conditions this week could mimic somewhat that event where Canizares blitzed the field.
The course - Black Mountain GC
The par 72 track will stretch approximately 7,350 yards through pristine undulating and mountainous terrain. Water hazards are a prominent feature throughout and the challenge will be a little harder than in recent events played here, with the official European Tour site claiming rough is tougher and greens faster and firmer than the norm. According to Rikard Karlberg - who now lives on the course - the greens are always fast and this combined with frequent blustery conditions on the mountain is the biggest defence of the course. When it inevitably blows, there will be a premium on controlling your ball blight into elevated, undulating greens and, in general, getting the pace right on said surfaces. There is a luxury Villa to be won for a hole in one on the par three 14th so expect some juicy risk reward action there!
Four from the pack
I mentioned Rikard Karlberg - 41.00 or 9.00 - and he recently tweeted a pic of his new home overlooking the course where he mentions he'll be moving in this Wednesday! A nice distraction and a relaxed setting could be just the tonic for Rikard who finished runner-up last time he teed it up competitively here in the Kings Cup Hua Hin on the Asian Tour in 2014. Karlberg just missed out to home boy Pryad Marksaeng but secured the 2nd place berth. Rikard represents Black Mountain GC and has always made the course his base when playing in Asia; he knows the track better than most.
SSP Chawrasia and Paul Peterson are two players firmly on the radar this week, both trading at 67.00 or 14.00 the place. The former may draw inspiration from compatriot Lahiri's sucess in Malaysia where SSP himself recorded a top 10. This was his second top 10 finish in a row while he also carded a top 5 in Hong Kong late last year following success in the Panasonic Open India. Peterson recently grabbed a win on the Egolf Gateway tour which obviously gave him confidence and last week he was out with Lee Westwood on Sunday en route to a top 5. With confidence lifted even further Paul may surprise this in Thailand.
Continuing the Swedish theme, Johan Edfors - 81.00 or 17.00 - is one that arguably knows the course more than Rikard. Edfors has spent more time in his on course Villa than in Sweden over the last few years. Winner of the Black Mountain Masters in 2009 (-17), Edfors also has an under the radar win in the 2013 pro-am Black Mountain Invitational here (67-70-69). He won the par three contest here before the Asian Tour's Kings Cup at the start of 2014. He's on record as saying he hit some fine shots despite strong winds so he knows what to expect at Black Mountain, and how to deal with it. The Swede finished 17th in the King's Cup but only a disastrous 77 in round 3 in high unmanageable winds scuppered his chances of another victory. Edfors was back in the winners circle at the ShangKai Classic late in 2014.
Atiwit "Jazz" Janewattananond - 126.0 or 23.00 - is another who resides around Black Mountain and the Thai has been working on his swing and his fitness through 2014. Big things are expected of the teenager who knows how to tackle Black Mountain GC and he hits it straight which is a positive this week in the wind. Two rounds of 69 in Malaysia mean his game is simmering and with the home support behind he could push into the top 10.