Photo - Asian Tour. Ryo Ishikawa & Noh Seung-yul
ISHIKAWA AND NOH SET TO RENEW RIVALRY AT PANASONIC OPEN
Kobe: Korean standout Noh Seung-yul hopes to go one-up on Japanese superstar Ryo Ishikawa when the Asian teen titans renew their friendly rivalry at the Asia-Pacific Panasonic Open starting on Thursday.
Since their first encounter as juniors five years ago, both the 19-year-olds have achieved so much success belying their years that Noh and Ishikawa are regarded as the future of Asian golf.
With this week’s ¥150,000,000 (approximately US$1.7 million) showpiece at the Rokko Kokusai Golf Club’s East course jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour, they are relishing the opportunity of outdoing the other.
“Noh is a great player. We first met when we were 14 in a Japan vs Korea junior match. I played against him and he beat me! I’ve been following his progress ever since,” said Ishikawa, last year’s Japan Tour number one and the current money list leader.
Noh, who is the older of the two by about four months, is also heading up the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit although his career victories tally of two falls six short of Ishikawa’s current haul of eight.
The supremely talented Korean was disappointed they were not paired up for the first two rounds but is dreaming of a Sunday shootout. “I was expecting to play with Ryo but it didn’t turn out that way,” said Noh, who instead drew Japanese legend Jumbo Ozaki.
“I hope we can play together in the last round. It will be very exciting. The last time we played in the same group was in the Korean Open last year where he shot a couple of strokes better than me. In 2008 when we were paired together in Japan, I was a little better than him. I’ve known him since our junior days when I beat him in all three days. Hopefully I can go one up on him here.”
While the laidback Noh has a shot of rewriting Asian golf history by becoming the youngest ever Asian Tour number one, he is still not quite as famous back home as Ishikawa is in his native land.
Ishikawa, who has won twice this season in Japan, has the appeal of a pop star thanks to his good looks and dashing play but Noh is not envious at all. “I’m not so famous like Ryo. Maybe I have to win a Major to be as famous as he is. It doesn’t bother me,” said Noh, who won the Maybank Malaysian Open in March.
Ishikawa is also hoping to contend this Sunday, especially when Panasonic is one of his many sponsors. “I’m going to try to get into contention. My game is getting very good, especially my driving which is feeling very good,” said the teen who is nicknamed the “Bashful Prince” by the local media.
“We’ve not had a chance to play much together. Hopefully we can play together on Sunday afternoon in the last match.”
But to set up a dream Sunday showdown, both the young stars will need to tame the brutal par-71 course which has punishing knee-deep rough and slick greens.
Australia’s Andrew Dodt, third on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit and paired with Ishikawa, summed it up. “It’s brutal. Every tee shot, you have to hit a good shot to keep it on the short stuff. If you hit a bad shot this week, you’re not getting away with it.”
Dodt’s week got off on a magical note when he sank a hole-in-one during the pro-am on Tuesday which earned him a 65-inch Panasonic TV. “Any time you have a hole in one feels pretty good but to do it in the pro-am feels pretty neat. I was first given a small little camera but the sponsor quickly came over and said they’d give me a TV,” said Dodt, winner of the Avantha Masters in India this year.
Fifteen of the top-20 players from the Asian Tour’s merit list are in this week’s elite field and with a big prize pot to shoot for, there is added incentive. The top-10 ranked players and top-five by mid-October stand to earn exemptions into the inaugural US$6 million CIMB Asia Pacific Classic, Malaysia and US$7 million WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, ranked ninth on the list, is determined to put in a strong showing, especially after finishing in the top-five in Japan last weekend. “A top-five or 10 will be good. I’m hoping to play my best and hope to get into the big events later this year. I’m feeling good with my game,” said the former world junior champion.
Japan’s Daisuke Maruyama is defending his title this week. Other top names in the field include Marcus Fraser of Australia, currently second behind Noh on the merit list, Japan’s Yuta Ikeda, who was victorious in Japan last week, Thailand’s Thaworn Wiratchant, Korea’s Bae Sang-moon and 2008 Panasonic Open champion Hideto Tanihara.