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Sentosa: Tetsuji Hiratsuka has no regrets attending last year’s Asian Tour Qualifying School.
Despite a strong career in Japan which has yielded five victories, the Japanese ace wanted to broaden his playing horizons beyond the Land of the Rising Sun and decided to sign up for the gruelling qualifiers where the top-40 players earn Tour cards.
He reckoned the Asian Tour, billed as the third largest Tour behind the US and European Tours, would create opportunities to raise his game to a higher level and he has certainly not been let down.
On Sunday, the 38-year-old ran away with the Air Bagan Myanmar Open presented by IBTC title and earned himself a precious two-year winner’s exemption which will now get him into all the major events in Asia.
“I’m definitely going to be playing more on the Asian Tour and try to win more tournaments,” said Hiratsuka, who defeated Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand by a massive 10 shots.
“Honestly, I did not expect to win before coming to this tournament. But after four good rounds, I surprised even myself to win by this big margin,” said Hiratsuka, who put together cards of 64, 65, 69 and 66 for a 24-under-par 264 winning total.
Despite his modesty, signs of a victory were there as Hiratsuka finished third at the season-opening Asian Tour International in Bangkok and Avantha Masters in India.
With the opportunity to compete in great events such as the Ballantine’s Championship in Jeju island, Korea next week, Hiratsuka said the Asian Tour is no doubt a great platform for players like himself looking to grow their careers.
In fact, he is not the only Japanese star who has started to compete regularly on the Asian Tour.
Fellow Japan Tour winners Hideto Tanihara and Azuma Yano have also made their presence felt on the Asian Tour. Tanihara, an eight time winner including two events co-sanctioned by the Asian and Japan Tours, finished sixth in Yangon.
Hiratsuka’s triumph saw him move up to fourth place on the Order of Merit. Australian Andrew Dodt cemented his position on top of the rankings with a tied third finish in Myanmar which took his season’s haul to US$376,737.
Korea’s Noh Seung-yul remains second with US$346,677 while countryman K.J. Choi is third on US$222,220.
The Asian Tour moves to Jeju island, Korea next week for the US$2.9 million Ballantine’s Championship which is sanctioned with the European Tour and Korean PGA.
Order of Merit – Top-20
Pos Player Order of Merit (US$)
1. Andrew DODT (AUS) 376,737
2. NOH Seung-yul (KOR) 346,677
3. K.J. CHOI (KOR) 222,220
4. Tetsuji HIRATSUKA (JPN) 164,913
5. Kiradech APHIBARNRAT (THA) 125,867
6. Rhys DAVIES (WAL) 118,557
7. Jason KNUTZON (USA) 90,308
8. Rahil GANGJEE (IND) 73,086
9. Gaganjeet BHULLAR (IND) 72,000
10. LAM Chih Bing (SIN) 68,979
11. Thaworn WIRATCHANT (THA) 57,865
12. Angelo QUE (PHI) 56,964
13. Thongchai JAIDEE (THA) 55,000
14. Richard KARLBERG (SWE) 48,450
15. Hideto TANIHARA (JPN) 45,924
16. CHAN Yih-shin (TPE) 44,638
17. Jyoti RANDHAWA (IND) 43,410
18. Chapchai NIRAT (THA) 43,205
19. Darren BECK (AUS) 42,650
20. S.S.P. CHOWRASIA (IND) 37,790

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