Now Noh sets sites on Open Qualifier

Noh Seung-yul is looking to follow his sensational Malaysian Open win by qualifying for the 150th Open Championship.

South Korea’s 18-year-old Noh Seung-yul is looking to follow his sensational victory at the Maybank Malaysian Open by qualifying for the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews.

This at the 36-hole Open Championship International Final Qualifier (Asia) at Saujana Golf Club near Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday and Thursday where he will be one of 72 players from 18 nations competing for four places at St Andrews from July 15-18.

Talented Thailand teenager Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who led the Malaysian Open at one stage before finishing third, is also playing in this week’s IFA as is Japan’s Hiroyuki Fujita, the highest ranked player in the field, Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Andrew Dodt of Australia, India’s up-and-coming Gaganjeet Bhullar, China’s rising star Wu Ashun, Singapore’s Lam Chih Bing and Malaysians Danny Chia and Iain Steel.

“This victory opens up a lot of doors for me so I’ll see where it takes me,” said Noh, who, in edging out fellow countryman and childhood hero KJ Choi on Sunday, became the youngest professional ever to win a title on the European Tour.

Danny Lee, the Korean-born New Zealander, was younger than Noh when he won the Johnnie Walker Classic in Perth, Australia, in February 2009, but at that stage he was still an amateur.

Noh, in the meantime, is determined to play his way into what would be his maiden Major appearance.

My confidence is high and I’m still feeling good. Playing in a Major and especially the Open at St Andrews. is every golfers’ dream and it is no different for me,” he added.

What might also be adding to his confidence this week is the fact that Noh is no stranger to the par-72 Palm Course, also known as “The Cobra”

It was here, after all, that he fired a sizzling 62 to lead the first round of last year’s Maybank Malaysian Open.

He didn’t finish the job then, but he did make up for it at 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 (The Cobra). It will be difficult this week so I must not take things lightly, but hopefully I will be in the top four,” Noh concluded

Steel holds the distinction of being the first Malaysian to play in the Open (in 1996) and he is hoping for it to be third time lucky this year after narrowly losing out in his last two stabs at qualifying.

He missed out by a stroke in Scotland last year and was defeated in a play-off two years ago in the United States.

Steel, whose father is Scottish and his mother Malaysian, is hoping to turn his fortunes as he fondly 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 joint sanctioned European and Asian Tours’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 for. 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,” added Dodt who missed out by a stroke at last year’s Asian IFQ in Singapore.

India’s rising star Gaganjeet Bhullar, winner of the season-opening Asian Tour International in Bangkok, is confident of making a second successive appearance.

He 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.