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Two days after winning Malaysia’s national Open, Korean teen sensation Noh Seung-yul is turning his attention onto the biggest Open of them all, the British Open.
The in-form Noh, who pulled off a stunning victory over his illustrious countryman K.J. Choi on Sunday, is amongst 72 players vying for four tickets to the Open at the two-day International Final Qualifying – Asia at Saujana Golf and Country Club starting on Wednesday.
The 18-year-old will be joined by Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Andrew Dodt of Australia, Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, who finished tied third last weekend, China’s rising star Wu Ashun, Singapore’s Lam Chih Bing and Malaysians Danny Chia and Iain Steel.
A strong Japanese line-up will also converge at Saujana, including Hiroyuki Fujita, currently ranked 80th in the world, Tetsuji Hiratsuka, five-time winner in Japan, two-time Asian Tour winner Hideto Tanihara and two-time Japan Tour winner Azuma Yano.
Korean amateur stars Han Chang-won and Eric Chun  will also be in the mix after finishing first and second respectively at the inaugural Asian Amateur Championship in China last November.
Noh is determined to play his way into his maiden Major appearance at the 150th British Open at St Andrews, Scotland this July. “My confidence is high and I’m still feeling good. Playing in a Major is every golfers’ dream and it is no different for me,” said Noh today.
Noh is no stranger to the par-72 Palm Course, also known as “The Cobra”, as he fired a sizzling 62 to lead the first round of last year’s Maybank Malaysian Open. Although he didn’t finish the job then, he made up for it with a superb triumph at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club on Sunday, pulling off an audacious birdie on the last hole for a one-shot win.
“I have good memories here and I know this course. It will be difficult this week so I must not take things lightly. Hopefully I will be in the top four,” added the young Korean.
Steel holds the distinction of being the first Malaysian to play in the Open in 1996 and he is hoping to be third time lucky in qualifying after narrowly losing out on a spot in the last two years. He missed out by a stroke in Scotland last year and was defeated in a play-off two years ago in the United States.
“Playing this week is new as I have never played in the IFQ - Asia before. I came close on two occasions and hope that this year will be my year,” said the American-based Steel.
Steel, whose father is Scottish and mother is Malaysian, is hoping to turn his fortunes as he remembers the buzz of competing in his maiden Major. “When I first played in 1996, I was young and inexperienced but I managed to stay at that level of form for a while so hopefully I can get back to it and my game will rise again,” said Steel.
Dodt won the Avantha Masters in India last month and knows that it is every players’ dream this week to qualify for the 150th edition of the Open Championship.
“This is the one everyone is talking about qualifying. Everyone wants to play in St Andrews so you just have to go all out and not hold back. I will be trying my best and hope to be one of the top four after 36 holes,” said Dodt who missed out by a stroke at last year’s qualifier in Singapore.
India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar, winner of the season-opening Asian Tour International in Bangkok, is confident of making a second successive appearance. The Indian rising star made his Major debut last July and subsequently won his first Asian Tour title in Indonesia in the following week.
“The British Open is one of the most prestigious Majors in the history of golf and I definitely want to play in it again. I won the IFQ last year (in Singapore), so I have a lot of good memories and I’m very hopeful this week.
“Winning my first tournament this season is certainly a huge boost but Saujana is one of the most difficult and challenging golf courses on the Asian Tour so it will be interesting,” said Bhullar.
Chinese stalwart Wu plans to follow in the footsteps of compatriot Liang Wen-chong who played in all four rounds of the British Open in 2008. “It is always a goal of mine to play in the British Open. My form has been quite good but I need to work on my tee shots. I played well last week (finishing top-20) and I’m looking forward to qualifying. I remember watching the Open as a child when John Daly won in 1995 but I was still young then. It means more to me now if I were to play in the Major,” said Wu.

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