Kodai Ichihara, Shugo Imahira, Sang-hee Lee and Hideto Tanihara have qualified for THE OPEN at the Gateway to THE OPEN Mizuno Open at JFE Setonaikai Golf Club in Okayama, Japan.
The four will now take their place among the world’s best players as they take on the challenge of THE 145th OPEN at Royal Troon from 14-17 July, 2016. The Mizuno Open was the fourth stop in The Open Qualifying Series, which gives players the opportunity to qualify for golf’s most international major championship at leading Tour events around the world.
Ichihara, Imahira and Lee finished tied for second place on 10-under-par, one shot behind winner KT Kim of Korea, who had already earned his place in THE OPEN for a fifth time after leading the Japan Golf Tour money list in 2015.
Despite a final round 73, one-over-par for the day, Kim, a former Japanese Amateur Champion, and 11-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, sealed his victory with a 12-foot par putt on the 18th hole to claim his first Mizuno Open title by a single shot. The 29-year-old carded the lowest round of the tournament, delivering an eight-under-par 64 in Friday’s second round.
“I am very happy to be able to play in THE OPEN again”, said Kim. “This year at Royal Troon will be my fifth time playing in the Championship, although the last four times I didn’t play as well as I could. This year at Royal Troon I want to be well prepared and to be able to challenge for the Claret Jug.”
Japan’s Ichihara posted an excellent final round 68, including three birdies on the front nine and two more on the 12th and 17th holes. A bogey at the par-4 13th was the only blemish on his scorecard.
The 34-year-old celebrated his birthday by earning his second start at THE OPEN, his debut coming in 2012, where he missed the cut at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
“It’s very exciting to play in THE OPEN again this year”, said Ichihara. “My first time was four years ago, it was my first major and I didn’t know what to expect. I found it hard to play my best as I was very intimidated.”
“This time I will know what the experience is like and I hope to be able to focus on playing my own game. This year my goal is to play my best and enjoy the experience of playing at such a prestigious Championship.”
Imahira, who was also competing on home soil this week, will make his major championship debut in THE OPEN at Royal Troon after a final round of 72 secured his place in the field.
“This will be my first major championship ever. I am really excited to be going to Scotland to play in such a special event, said Imahira.
“In my mind I think of the links courses as being very hard and fast, so I will need to prepare to be able to chip and roll the ball to the greens.”
“Since it will be my first real links course and first major, it’s going to be a very tough challenge but I am very much looking forward to it.”
The 23-year-old made his way around the course in steady fashion, recording two birdies and two bogeys on the front nine, followed by a series of pars down the stretch.
Korea’s Lee, who missed a birdie putt on the final hole that had the potential to force a play-off with Kim, turned in a final-round 72. The 24-year-old, who won the 2016 SK Telecom Open last week, continued his strong play to book his debut appearance in golf’s first championship.
After finishing in a four-way tie for fifth place on nine-under-par with New Zealand’s Michael Hendry and Japanese compatriots Satoshi Kodaira, who had already earned a place in THE OPEN, and Naoto Takayanagi, Tanihara qualified for THE OPEN by virtue of his higher position in the Official World Golf Ranking (114).
The 37-year-old has played in THE OPEN four times with his best finish coming in 2006 when he tied for fifth place with Sergio Garcia. Despite three bogeys on the back nine, the runner-up in the 2016 BMW ISPS HANDA New Zealand Open salvaged his round with a birdie on the final hole to clinch his place at Royal Troon.
“It is wonderful to have earned a place in THE OPEN again here in Japan at the Mizuno Open”, said Tanihara. “I have very good memories of playing in 2006, the year that Tiger Woods won at Royal Liverpool, when I finished tied for fifth.”
“My game has improved dramatically since the last time that I played in the Championship in 2008. Since it has been a long time since I’ve played at one of THE OPEN venues it will be very challenging but I am looking forward to preparing for Royal Troon and I hope to do my best.”