THAI star Thongchai Jaidee is ready for a Muirfield mauling if the weather turns nasty when the East Lothian course hosts this year’s Open Championship.
The 43-year-old got his first taste of links golf when the Gullane venue last staged the world’s oldest major in 2002.
He shot an 80 in the opening round before withdrawing due to an injury before Ernie Els emerged as the winner following a four-man play-off.
The only upside of that disappointment for Jaidee was that he missed out on one of the worst days in the event’s history as wind and rain turned the third round into a battle for survival.
Speaking after opening up a three-shot lead on the back of a first-round 65 in the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa, Jaidee told the Evening News he can’t wait to return to Muirfield this summer.
“The first time I played in Scotland was the 2002 British Open at Muirfield,” he said. “Unfortunately, I had to withdraw after an 80 in the first round due to a back injury.
“But I still think it helped me to play in the wind, rain and cold – I think a learned a lot from that experience.”
Indeed, Jaidee admitted his splendid opening effort on a grey and, certainly later on, wet day on the south east coast of South Africa had been a product of playing in the wind in the home of golf.
“It was like playing a links course in Scotland,” he added. “I’ve learned a lot of things from that. I also won in the rain in Wales last year so playing in Europe has helped me learn about conditions like these.”
Jaidee’s sparkling first-day effort, which involved him use his driver just twice around a tight course at Durban County Club, saw him set the pace ahead of South African duo Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen.
But well within striking distance as well after they all opened with 69s were Scottish trio Paul Lawrie, Scott Jamieson and Richie Ramsay.
“Today was good – I played lovely,” said Lawrie, Scotland’s top-ranked player. “I only hit two poor shots all day and they were both on the same hole (the eighth, where he ran up a double-bogey 7).
“I hit a poor tee shot with a driver that went way right in the bushes. After chipping it out sideways, I then duff hooked a rescue third shot.
“But, apart from those two shots, I was never in trouble. And we had the toughest part of the day, no question.”
That was a reference to him and playing partner Colin Montgomerie, who opened with a level-par 72 to sit in a share of 15th, playing their final few holes in steady rain.
Despite that, Lawrie came home in 31, five-under, and had nothing but praise afterwards for a course that was once ranked No 1 in South Africa.
“The course is fantastic,” he declared. “If you spray it about a little bit off the tee, you’re going to be in trouble.
“You’ve got to hit the fairways around this course, and if you do, the course is pretty short and pretty easy. But, if you hit it off line, it’s not so easy.
“There was a good breeze blowing today, which I like and there’s no doubt that protects this course. You’ve got to play well to get a score out there.”
Lawrie has given himself a tough act to follow, having won twice in 2012 en route to finishing tenth in the Race to Dubai.
“My expectations are no more than they were at the start of last year,” he replied when asked if he’d set any goals for himself in 2013.
“I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself. I know I’m swinging well and I know the putter is working a lot better. But we’ll just see what happens.”