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Asian sensations

Thailand's Prom Meesawat earned his first Open spot by winning the Asian IFQ in Thailand. Also qualifying were Jason Knutzon, Japan's Tetsuji Hiratsuka and Singapore's Lam Chih Bing.

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(L-R): Tetsuji Hiratsuka of Japan, Prom Meesawat of Thailand, Jason Knutzon of USA and Lam Chih Bing of Singapore will play in the British Open this summer by virtue of their finish in the Asian IFQ qualifier in February. (Getty Images)

By PGA.com news services

CHONBURI, Thailand -- Thailand’s Prom Meesawat earned his first British Open appearance Friday after winning the Asian edition of International Final Qualifying (IFQ) at Amata Spring Country Club near Bangkok.

A one-time Asian Tour winner, Meesawat shot a 7-under-par 65 for a two-day aggregate of 12-under-par 132. He will accompany Japanese veteran Tetsuji Hiratsuka, Singapore’s Lam Chih Bing and American Jason Knutzon into the Open at Royal St. George’s in July, as they earned the four spots available to the field of 77 hopefuls.
 
It was a welcome return to form for Meesawat, the former World Amateur Junior champion, whose form dipped after twice finishing in the top 10 of the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit in 2006 and 2007.
 
“It’s my first major. I played very good the past two days,” said the 26-year-old Meesawat. “My driving and everything else was very good. I’ve been working hard with my coach and psychologist and I need to thank them.
 
“My friends have been encouraging me all along when my form wasn’t good,” he added. “It’s a good comeback for me. It’s a good feeling. I played to my strength on this course. I knew which holes to be cautious. To qualify for the oldest major, it’s an amazing feeling.”
 
Hiratsuka, whose three victories in Asia last season included two titles in Thailand, earned his second trip to the Open with a best-of-the-day 64. Fifth on the Merit rankings last year, he came home in 30, thanks to a streak of six birdies in seven holes, to book his first trip to the Open for seven years, when he tied for 36th at Royal Troon.
 
“I played well despite my body condition being not so good. But on the back nine, I played fantastic golf. I hit it close with my irons for some easy birdies,” said Hiratsuka, 39. “I normally am not nervous, but today I felt a bit uneasy. I’ve not played in the Open since 2004, so it is good to qualify again.”
 
Lam, meanwhile, secured his third appearance with a bogey-free 67, a round that featured five birdies.
 
“I was meant to play Pebble Beach but I’ll go over to the Open anytime!” he explained. “Playing in the Open has been one of the highlights of my career and I’m looking forward to it again. I drove the ball really good this week and didn’t miss a fairway in two days, which was the key. I think I’ll go there to enjoy the week and try to make the cut again.
 
“I love playing links courses. We don’t get anything like that in this part of the world and that’s how golf was meant to be played,” he added.
 
Knutzon, whose only major appearance to date came at the 2003 U.S. Open, closed with a 67, and then endured a nervous wait for the fourth and final spot with overnight leader Kodai Ichihara attempting to force a playoff. The Japanese player missed his birdie chance on 18, however, and Knutzon took the Open ticket.

“I’m really excited. I’ve not played much over there [the United Kingdom] and I’m looking forward to this one,” he said. “It’ll be fun as I’ve not played in the the Open before.”

International Final Qualifying (IFQ) events were introduced in 2004 and are held on five continents to give more players from around the world the chance to gain direct entry into golf's oldest championship. The first two IFQ events of 2011 were held in Australia and South Africa, while the remaining two are set for May 23 at Gleneagles in Plano, Texas; and June 6 at Sunningdale in England.