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Korea’s rising star Noh Seung-yul maintained his red-hot form to share the opening round lead with Danny Chia of Malaysia on six-under-par 66 at the British Open Championship International Final Qualifying – Asia on Wednesday.
The 18-year-old Noh, winner of the Maybank Malaysian Open on Sunday, shot an eagle and seven birdies against a bogey and a double bogey at the Saujana Golf and Country Club to put himself in prime position for one of four tickets available to the British Open in July.
Chia, who has won once on the Asian Tour, carded a flawless round highlighted by six birdies to boost his hopes of a third appearance in the world’s oldest Major.
Hiroyuki Fujita of Japan, the highest ranked player in the 72-man field at 80th in the world and Korean amateur Eric Chun, runner-up at the inaugural Asian Amateur Championship in China last year, shot matching 67s to lie in tied third position.
A further shot back are Wu Ashun of China and Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand, who carded identical 69s.
Starting from the 10th tee, Noh bounced back superbly from a double bogey on the 12th hole when he sank a 15-foot eagle on the 13th hole. From there on, the talented Korean peppered the flags for his birdies to give himself a chance of earning a maiden Major appearance.
“It was a mixed round for me but overall I’m glad to shoot what I did on this tough course. My putting worked very well and you need that especially on these greens,” said Noh.
Noh rued a missed eagle chance from five feet on the seventh hole but was confident of getting the job done tomorrow in the 36-hole qualifier.
“It was a very tough putt because it was very sloppy but I’m still feeling confident of my chances for tomorrow,” added Noh.
Chia holed a brilliant 25 foot birdie putt on his second hole to kickstart his round and was delighted with his ball striking.
“Today was one of my best ball striking rounds of the year! I have to thank (Lam) Chih Bing and Unho (Park) for giving me some tips on my swing yesterday. That gave me some confidence plus I’m playing in Saujana and I have a lot of good memories on this golf course,” said Chia who qualified for the British Open in 2005 and was the halfway leader at last year’s Maybank Malaysian Open, both times at Saujana.
Fujita, who featured at the 2005 British Open at St Andrews, posted seven birdies against two bogeys and credited a hot putter for his superb start. “The greens were very tough and my putting helped with my performance. I won’t complain with my score and I hope to maintain my form going into tomorrow’s round,” said the 40-year-old.
“There are four tickets available here but I’m here to try and win it to ensure that I earn a spot in the Open,” added the two-time Asian Tour winner.
Starting from the back nine, the 20-year-old Chun, who grew up playing golf in Malaysia, provided the talk of the clubhouse with his round which included seven birdies against two dropped shots.
“I had a lot of good breaks. I shot good distances to the hole so it was good for me to take advantage of those,” said Chun, who turned 20 on Monday.
“I can’t compare myself with the professionals after one round. They do this every day. They just played last week and some of them are exhausted so I have an advantage. I’m just going out there tomorrow to play the golf course. I’m not trying to outplay the other guys. If I stick to the game plan, I should be fine,” added Chun.
China’s Wu, aiming for his first Major appearance, fired six birdies against three bogeys and knows he needs to continue to wield a hot putter to keep himself in contention. “Putting will be the key for tomorrow. The greens are tough but luckily I managed to hit it close. I will aim to do the same and hopefully break into the top four.”
For the first time in the IFQ, the leaders will play together in the second round, with Chia and Noh slated to tee off at 9.25am.
Leading round 1 scores

66 - Danny CHIA (MAS), NOH Seung-Yul (KOR)
67 - Hiroyuki FUJITA (JPN), Eric CHUN (A) (KOR)
69 - WU Ashun (CHN), Thaworn WIRATCHANT (THA)
70 - Rahil GANGJEE   (IND), Tony CAROLAN (AUS), LEE Sung (KOR)                
71 - Guido VAN DER VALK (HOL), Miles TUNNICLIFF    (ENG)              
72 - Mardan MAMAT (SIN), HIDETO Tanihara (JPN), Tomohiro KONDO (JPN), Yoshinobu TSUKADA (JPN), KIM Young-jin (KOR), M.Sasidaran (MAS), Mars PUCAY (PHI), Marcus BOTH (AUS), Kodaai ICHIHARA     (JPN), Unho PARK (AUS)

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