Loving Scotland but hating haggis
SINGAPORE -- India's rising star Shiv Kapur and Australian duo Jarrod Lyle and Unho Park earned their maiden appearance at The Open Championship after surviving a nerve-jangling final round at International Final Qualifying-Asia in Singapore.
Lyle, who survived a battle against leukaemia seven years ago, and Singapore-based Park finished at the top of the leaderboard on six-under-par 138 after rounds of 71 and 70 respectively at Sentosa Golf Club's Serapong course.
Kapur, 24, needed four extra holes in sudden-death to earn his dream debut at the world's oldest major, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, from July 20-23. He pipped deaf Korean golfer Lee Sung for the third and final slot in a shoot-out after both players tied on 139.
The highly rated Indian, last year's Asian Tour rookie of the year, took advantage of Lee's misfortune of missing a four-foot par putt in regulation play which would have earned the Korean, who signed off with a 68, a ticket to Royal Liverpool.
After halving the first three extra holes with pars, Lee cracked under pressure, hooking his drive into water at the par five 18th hole. Kapur safely parred to cap a year in which he won his maiden Asian Tour title the Volvo Masters of Asia in Bangkok.
"It's pretty cool to be in The Open, it's been great this past one year," said Kapur, who closed with a 70 which included a crucial birdie on 18 that got him into the play-off.
"I've always dreamed of playing in a major as a kid and for it to come this early in my career, I'm pretty stoked. This makes my career a bit better. Two hours earlier, I thought I was looking good to qualify but Jarrod, Unho and Lee played great at the end. "It was a bit of hard work but I think preparation like this will make me stronger. But personally, I wouldn't want to get into too many play-offs as it wasn't easy on the nerves."
For the 25-year-old Lyle, qualifying for his first major 18 months after turning professional and just seven years after recovering from leukaemia, proved to be a remarkable journey for the Asian Tour newcomer.
He turned in 37, but birdies on 12, 13 and 16 against a bogey on 15 saw the burly Australian squeeze in. "It's a dream come true. I can't wait to get over there and see what's it's all about. I birdied one and two and then had a double bogey on three and was a bit scratchy for most of the day. But I finished off strongly in the last four or five holes. It's good to make it through," said Lyle.
"Lying on my back in a hospital bed seven years ago, I wouldn't have thought about playing the Open or doing this for a living. I've been a pro for 18 months and now I'm going to my first major. I made some good birdies on 12 and 13 and had good up and down on 14 for par and made another birdie on 16 which sealed it in the end," said Lyle, whose rookie year in Asia last season saw him finish runner-up twice.
Lyle's family has wasted no time in planning for a trip to Hoylake. "I rang my parents and told them to book tickets to get organised to get over to England. My dad was driving the car when I broke the good news and hopefully he didn't run off the road. Mum was in tears, it's just awesome," said Lyle.
Making his maiden major appearance will certainly cap a magnificent 2006 so far for the colourful Park, who recently got married and is expecting his first child. The smooth-swinging Park qualified in superb fashion, shooting birdies on 17 and 18.
He rifled a six iron from 195 yards to three feet on 17 and needing a birdie on 18 to avoid a play-off, Park nailed a wedge to eight feet for birdie. "I almost closed my eyes when I hit my last putt," said Park. "It's a milestone for me, I've always wanted to play in the big events and this will look good on my resume. I made good par saves from 14 to 16 and the last two holes was so stressful.
"But I hit a great six iron in on 17 and knew I needed birdie at the last to avoid getting more grey hairs. I hit a really good shot in there under pressure and it's just so good for my confidence. This hasn't hit me yet but I'm sure I'll be sitting at home later telling myself that I'm going to The Open."
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