THE fight for the prestigious Asian Tour's UBS Order of Merit crown reaches its climax at the season-ending Volvo Masters of Asia this week, with China's Liang Wenchong and Chapchai Nirat of Thailand locked in an intriguing battle.
Liang, the Merit leader since May, is dreaming of becoming the first Asian No. 1 from China but Chapchai can deny him the accolade if he pulls off a home victory at the Thai Country Club and Liang finishes outside the top three.
The US$750,000 ($1.1m) Volvo Masters of Asia begins tomorrow and will bring the curtain down on a record-breaking Asian Tour season which included an unprecedented 28 events with over US$27m in prize money, reported asiantour.com.
The Chinese star presently leads the Merit race on US$525,570, with the big-hitting Thai trailing by US$95,005 in second place.
A cheque of US$135,000 awaits the Volvo winner on Sunday. And if Chapchai pulls off a triumph, Liang will need to secure third place, worth US$50,000, to stay ahead of his only rival for the Merit crown.
While the 24-year-old Chapchai is feeling the strain of competing in his ninth tournament in 10 weeks, he is ready for one final push for glory.
He finished joint-eighth at the Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open on Sunday and was victorious in the previous week's stop in Hanoi.
'I will head back and get some much needed rest,' he said before departing Siem Reap.
'Playing at home in Thailand is an advantage because I feel really comfortable with my game.
'I do not feel any pressure and I will be inspired to play well in front of my home fans.'
Chapchai knows he has an uphill task but is ready for the challenge. In 2005, the burly Thai finished joint-seventh in the Volvo Masters of Asia and was joint-39th last season.
'I will be looking for a win at the Volvo Masters of Asia and with the support of the local fans, I'm confident of making it,' he said.
'It is the final event to what has been a great year for me. I won two tournaments and I know I have the game to make it three this week.
'It will be tough, with the top players assembled here, but I will stick to my game plan of making fairways and greens.'
Liang is also in top form as he finished joint-third in the Golf Nippon Series JT Cup in Japan on Sunday.
Prior to that, he partnered Zhang Lianwei and helped China finish joint-11th in the Omega Mission Hills World Cup for the country's best finish in the team event billed as the 'Olympics of Golf'.
All year long, Liang, who has won once and accumulated eight other top 10s, has spoken about his ambition of becoming Asia's No. 1. But he knows he has some work left to do.
'I think it'll be quite special if I can achieve it, as no Chinese player has done it before,' said Liang.
Thai star Thongchai Jaidee will defend his title at the Volvo Masters of Asia.
The season finale also holds great significance for a number of players who are aiming to finish inside the top three of the Merit list.
With third-ranked Anton Haig of South Africa being one of three players absent in this week's field, which is exclusive to the top-60 players on the UBS Order of Merit, Australian Scott Hend, Scotland's Simon Yates and Thailand's Prom Meesawat can grab third spot with a victory.
The top-three players will gain spots in the lucrative WGC-CA Championship next year, while the Volvo Masters of Asia champion will earn a ticket to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Australians Keith Horne and Terry Pilkadaris are the other two players not competing in this week's event.