Ichihara of Japan on top after Day 1 of British Open qualifier in Thailand

PGA.com news services


Published: Thursday, February 24, 2011 | 1:16 p.m.

Japan’s Kodai Ichihara enjoyed a successful day with the putter on Thursday as he charged into the first-round lead in the Asian edition of International Final Qualifying (IFQ) for the British Open. The top four finishers in the field of 77 at the end of the two-day, 36-hole qualifier will earn berths at Royal St. George’s in July.

Ichihara, an 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, 7-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. “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 Koreans 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 playoff 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 Championship, 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 debut in April, is five shots off the lead, and four from the qualifying positions, after a 70.

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.