BANGKOK -- Hideki Matsuyama, Daisuke Maruyama, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Ashun Wu will make their debuts in the British Open in July after capturing the four available spots in the Asian edition of International Final Qualifying (IFQ) on Friday.
Rising Thai star Aphibarnrat topped the two-day, 36-hole qualifying tournament with a flawless 9-under-par 63, while Japanese amateur Matsuyama – a two-time Asia Pacific Amateur Championship winner who also has played in the Masters in each of the last two years – finished four shots back following a 69 at the Amata Spring Country Club.
His countryman Maruyama and China’s Wu closed with a 65 and 68 respectively to clinch the other two places out of the starting field of 78. Overnight leader Siddikur Rahman agonizingly missed out on becoming the first Bangladeshi player to play in golf’s oldest major after sending his tee shot into the water on the par-3 17th for a double bogey.
Aphibarnrat reached the turn in an impressive 30 strokes and added three further birdies to join countrymen Thaworn Wiratchant and Thongchai Jaidee at Muirfield.
“I’m glad I achieved my first dream in golf, which is to play in a major championship,” said the 23-year-old, who totalled 13-under-par 131. “I want to do my best at the Open. It will be the biggest challenge and event in my life.
“I’ve definitely improved a lot while playing on the Asian Tour,” he added. “I’ve gained a lot of experience through the years and earning an appearance in a major shows just how far my career has gone.”
The highly-rated Matsuyama, who dropped six shots in the last three holes last year, overcame a bogey on 16 and a double bogey on 17 with a spectacular birdie at the last to qualify for his first Open. It will be his third appearance in a major after playing in the Masters in 2011 and 2012.
“I’m excited and happy because I made it. After 16 and 17, I told myself to calm down, which I did,” he said. “I’m glad with the way I handled myself out there. This is my first appearance at the Open and I can’t wait for it.
“I gained a lot of experience when I played in the Masters and it improved my game and maturity. I’m sure I’ll become even better after playing in the Open,” smiled the 21-year-old, who has one professional victory in Japan as an amateur.
Maruyama, a two-time Asian Tour winner, made an impressive charge up the leaderboard with a round of eight birdies and one bogey to qualify for his first major.
“My goal was to shoot 7 under and I hit that target,” said Maruyama. “I turn 42 soon and I told myself that I need to qualify for the Open before I hang up my clubs. I’m really proud with my achievement today.”
After making a double bogey on No. 9, Wu made a relentless homeward nine charge as he returned with four birdies to become only the second Chinese player after Wen-Chong Liang to play in the Open.
“I played very well especially on my back nine. I’m very happy with my performance. Everybody wants to play in the Open, including me. I told my coach last month that I dreamt of qualifying for the Open and it came true,” said Wu, who played on the Asian Tour in 2008 and 2009.
Wu’s 14-year-old countryman Guan Tianlang, the reigning Asia-Pacific Amateur champion, finished 11 shots back from the qualifying positions on 147 after rounds of 73 and 74.
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 the British Open. The Australian event was held in January, and the other IFQ events are set for March 5-6 at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club in South Africa; May 20 at Gleneagles Country Club in Plano, Texas; and June 24 at Sunningdale Golf Club in Sunningdale, England.