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REFRESHED HEND EYES HAT-TRICK AT VENETIAN MACAO OPEN

Australia’s Scott Hend, feeling refreshed and recharged after a week’s break, will be aiming to become the first man to win a record third The Venetian Macao Open title starting on Thursday.

Big-hitting Hend starts as one of the odd-on favourites at the US$1.1 million Asian Tour tournament, thanks largely to stylish victories here in 2013 and last year. He also finished runner-up to India’s Anirban Lahiri in 2014 and is an impressive 52 under par at hosting Macau Golf and Country Club.

Standing in Hend’s way is reigning Asian Tour number one Lahiri, world number 14 Branden Grace, England’s Ian Poulter, who is returning from injury, and a host of rising stars including Filipino Miguel Tabuena, Indian S. Chikkarangappa and last week’s BNI Indonesian Masters winner Poom Saksansin of Thailand.

“To be a three-time champion here would be fantastic,” said Hend, who leads the Asian Tour Order of Merit following two titles this year.

The widely-travelled Aussie, ranked 64th in the world, took a timely break from the tour last week to prepare for a hectic end-of-season push which he hopes will culminate with him bagging a first Asian Tour Order of Merit title.

“Physically and mentally I needed a week,” said the 43-year-old, who rakes in the air miles through a hectic playing schedule.

“I’ve been very close to winning the Order of Merit previously and I should have won more times this year. I’ve got eight more tournaments and I like to think I can win at least one of them. It’ll be great to be a three-time winner of The Venetian Macao Open but it’ll be a tough week. There are some great players out here.”

Power-packed Tabuena hopes to roll the right numbers in Macao in challenging for a second Asian Tour victory, which will also keep him in the Order of Merit race where he is currently fifth.

“I’ve never had a good finish here but I can feel something special this week. I know my game is in a good place so hopefully I can play well,” said the Filipino, who turns 22 tomorrow.

“I feel more in control with my game. I know where my misses are and I know how to correct them. Being on tour for six years, and with the experience I’ve gained, I’m now a bit smarter on the golf course. You learn how to play golf instead of worrying about the mechanics.”

Chikkarangappa, 23, has enjoyed a recent strong run of form, finishing ninth and sixth in his last two starts in Taipei and Jakarta. He is now dreaming of emulating close friend Lahiri in securing a first Asian Tour victory at The Venetian Macao Open, the richest full-field Asian Tour event this season.

“A win is around the corner. I’ve been doing well,” said Chikkarangappa, who will represent India with S.S.P. Chawrasia in the World Cup of Golf in Melbourne next month.

“I’ve taken a lot of positives in the weeks when I’ve not finished well. I think I’m getting better from being in that position. There are a lot of top players here and it’s a great feeling competing against some of the best in the world. We did a lot of work back home with my coach Vijay Divecha, spending a lot of time on my short game, especially from 100 yards in.”

Baby-faced Poom is hoping to extend his rich vein of form after storming to a five-shot maiden Asian Tour victory at the BNI Indonesian Masters presented by Zurich last week. “I’m feeling good. Now that I’m a winner, I can play for another few years. This course is quite short but it’s very narrow. If I can hit my driver straight, I might have a chance. Last week, I drove well, so my confidence is good.”

No fewer than 43 tour winners, seven players from the current top 10 and five Order of Merit champions are in the field this week.

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