Kobayashi prepares for Panasonic Open title defence

Updated: Sep 25, 2013, 19:02 PM IST

Osaka : Japanese Masanori Kobayashi is bracing himself for a tough title defence at the Asia-Pacific Panasonic Open which starts Thursday as he continues the search for a suitable putter.

Kobayashi, 2012 Asian Tour Rookie of the Year, has changed five putters this season and hopes that a sixth putter change will turn his fortunes around at the $1.48 million event.

He will be joined by an in-form Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand, who won his 16th Asian Tour title a fortnight ago, Wade Ormsby of Australia, winner of the Panasonic Open India in April and Anirban Lahiri of India at the Ibaraki Country Club.

Current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, Asia’s first male Major winner Y.E. Yang of Korea, Angelo Que of the Philippines, Jbe Kruger of South Africa, Scott Barr of Australia and Japanese star Yuta Ikeda will also be in the elite field.

Kobayashi enjoyed a solid season last year when he won the tourney courtesy of a final round 62. He carded two other top-10s to finish sixth on the 2012 Order of Merit. This season he missed six cuts in his last seven events and admits that his poor putting spell has taken away the excitement.

“It feels like I’m changing my putters every week. At the start of the year, I wanted to win on the Asian Tour and in Japan but with my current form, I just hope to make the cut. I don’t feel excited about my title defence because I’m not playing my best. I enjoyed a good season last year but it has been disappointing so far," said the 37-year-old Kobayashi.

India’s rising star Lahiri, a three-time Asian Tour winner, will not have any injury doubts even though he is yet to fully recover from a knee injury. It will be a big week for Lahiri as a victory will put him in firm position to qualify for the WGC-HSBC Champions in China.

Lahiri, currently ranked seventh on the Order of Merit, will need to secure at least a third or second ranking on the Merit list by Oct 14 to qualify for the showpiece.

“I’m still recovering from my knee injury. I’m not a 100 percent but my knee has improved. We had a week’s break so I did a lot of treatment and worked on my swing. There are no injury worries while I’m playing. I just have to be more careful and not put too much pressure or strain on it,” said Lahiri.