By Jugjet Singh
SHAABAN Hussin, the sole Malaysian golfer at the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic Malaysia, is assured of US$50,000 (RM154,750) even before he tees off, but is looking at the bigger picture and is gunning for the US$1 million winner's cheque.
Shaaban qualified for this weekend's big event after winning the CIMB Asia Pacific Malaysian qualifier at the Mines Golf and Country Club, and now hopes his knowledge of the course will help him achieve his dream.
"Weeks before this tournament, I set myself a target of finishing among the top five. But today (yesterday) I changed it to the title purse itself.
"It would be a pity to let millions of ringgit leave our shores in a foreign hand," said Shaaban, 30, who played in the recent Iskandar Johor Open where he finished tied 44th with rounds of 72-71-74-68 for a 285 total and earned US$6,500.
"After winning the qualifier I was given a free hand to play at the Mines but I could only take up the offer last week because I was busy playing on the Asian Tour.
"Wow! I was amazed with the transformation of this course since the qualifier. It was so easy then, but now it plays much longer with plenty of rough to be careful of.
"But still, I have a good feeling because I am a long hitter, and all the other golfers would also find it challenging."
As for his preparation leading up to the tournament, Shaaban said: "I have been clocking many hours at the Mines the last week and all my rounds have been consistently four-under. This has spurred me further because I feel the winning score should be around 20-under."
His best round at the Iskandar Johor Open was a 68 on the final day but admitted that the pressure to make the cut made his first two rounds nightmarish.
"I was concentrating too much on making the cut and played safe golf, but after the pressure was off, I attacked and it was easy to land a 68," he said.
"This is a unique tournament with no cuts, and so there will be no pressure on me and I will attack from the first shot itself."
Last year was memorable for the lanky golfer as he secured his Asian Tour Card by a mere US$308 by finishing 65th on the Order of Merit. He went on to finish joint ninth at the Brunei Open and 11th at the Worldwide Holdings Selangor Masters.
Shaaban almost made a breakthrough at the Cambodian Open but failed to birdie the 18th hole to force a play-off with eventual winner Marcus Both of Australia.
The CIMB Asia Pacific Classic Malaysia could see a classic ending on Sunday if Shaaban hits form, but even if he doesn't, the Malaysian will still be a winner as the last placed finisher in the 40-player tournament will still earn US$50,000.