Halfway around the world from Augusta National, JbeÂ Kruger starts in the ISPS Handa Singapore Classic this week on a quest as important for his career as a major is for the players in the Masters.
The 25-year-old Bloemfontein professional won his maiden Asian Tour title in February when he won the European Tour co-sanctioned Avantha Masters in India, and the victory gave him a healthy lead of over $285,000 on the Asian Tour Order of Merit.
ÂMy main goal on the Asian Tour is to win the Order of Merit and I think the win in India is definitely going to help me achieve that. I also want to get as high as I can in the world rankings,Â said Kruger, who is currently 122nd in the world.
If he becomes the first South African to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit, he will find victory rewards the winner with exemptions into the Open Championship and the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship.
And, with a second-place finish in Singapore in 2010 and a share of seventh last year, he will be playing at the Orchid Country Club course where he knows he can do well.
He will be up against some good competition, however: Japanese stars Yuta Ikeda and Tetsuji Hiratsuka are in the field, as well as four more of this yearÂs Asian Tour champions Â local hero Mardan Mamat, IndiaÂs Anirban Lahiri, American David Lipsky and Kieran Pratt of Australia.
Also, Himmat Rai of India, who secured his maiden victory last season after a tough five-man play-off, will be back to defend his crown.
The addition of the 26-year-old Ikeda, who is highly rated in Japan, to the field adds spice to the contest. He has won nine times in his young career on the Japan Golf Tour and is presently ranked 110th in the world.
Hiratsuka finished second on the Asian Tour Order of Merit last season after securing his fourth title and in 2010, he won three times in Asia to finish fifth on the rankings.
The Sunshine TourÂs Peter Karmis is also in the field, and he is currently 66th on the Asian Tour Order of Merit. He will be joined by fellow-South Africans Hendrik Buhrmann and Anton Haig, as well as Adilson Da Silva.
The tournament starts on April 5.