IFQ Asia

For Immediate Publication


Japan’s Kodai Ichihara enjoyed a successful day with the putter, as he charged into the first-round lead at Open Championship International Final Qualifying Asia on Thursday.

Chasing one of four places available at Royal St George’s, the Asian Tour regular produced five birdies in an outward nine of 31, before coming home with two more birdies to sign for a bogey-free, seven-under-par 65 at Amata Spring Country Club, near Bangkok.

“My putting was very, very good,” said the 28-year-old, who is competing in his second IFQ in an attempt to secure an Open debut. “I holed a lot of putts from 10 to 20 feet, and, when I was in trouble on three occasions, my putting saved me.

“It’s my first competitive round of the year and I feel relaxed.”

India’s Shiv Kapur overcame a stomach-bug to shoot a 66, taking second place overnight with Bangladesh’s Siddikur Rahman and Lee Sung of Korea. The home challenge, meanwhile, is led by Prom Meesawat, who matched Korean duo Kim Hyung-sung and Bae Kyu-tae with a solid 67.

“I’ve been sick as a dog, and on the way to the club this morning, I thought there was no way I could play,” said Kapur, who qualified through IFQ Asia in 2006 before making his Major Championship debut at Royal Liverpool. “Since I was already here, I decided to give it a go and once I got into a playing mode, I forgot about being sick and carried on playing one shot at a time. I’ve got a chance now.”

Like Ichihara, Korea’s Lee also produced a bogey-free round. “I saw the lines. I’ve got a good chance,” said the 31-year-old, who lost in a play-off to Kapur at IFQ Asia in 2006.

Siddikur, who, last season, became the first Bangladeshi to win on the Asian Tour, said: “My play was excellent and I only missed one short putt. The winds were up and the course wasn’t easy. I’m feeling excited and I’m dreaming of playing in The Open, although there’s still one day to go.”

Liang Wen-chong, China’s first Asian Tour number one in 2007; Yoshinobu Tsukada of Japan, Thai hopes Pariya Junhasavasdikul, Prayad Marksaeng and Chinnarat Phadungsil; Australian Gavin Flint; England’s Miles Tunnicliff and Singapore’s Lam Chih Bing each posted four-under-par 68s to stay in the hunt.

Asian Amateur Champion Hideki Matsuyama, who is set to make his Masters Tournament debut next April, is five shots off the lead, and four from the qualifying positions, after a first round 70, two under par.

A field of 77 players is contesting 36 holes of International Final Qualifying at Amata Spring, with the top four earning a place in the 2011 Open Championship at Royal