Marksaeng, Khongwatmai, Song and Kruger qualify for The Open in Singapore
Thailand’s Prayad Marksaeng and Phachara Khongwatmai, Korea’s Younghan Song, and South Africa’s Jbe Kruger secured their places in The Open after qualifying at the SMBC Singapore Open at Sentosa Golf Club on Sunday.
It was the second event in The Open Qualifying Series for The 146th Open at Royal Birkdale which will be played from 16-23 July, 2017. The Series offers 44 places in golf’s most international major championship at leading Tour events across the globe.
It was a day to remember for 50-year-old Marksaeng, who lifted the trophy after a closing round of 67 (-4) saw him finish at the top of the leaderboard on nine-under-par. The popular Thai golfer will look to make it sixth time lucky when he returns to The Open in July after earning a qualifying place in Singapore.
It will be a busy summer for Marksaeng, who is set to play in the Senior Open at Royal Porthcawl the following week. “I’m so happy. This is number six for me and I am just so proud to be in The Open and to make the Thai people proud of me also,” said Markaeng.
“Before I came down to Singapore, a lot of Thai people believed in me and that I was going to make something great for this tournament. I just want to say I’m really thankful for all the Thai people.”
Rising teenage star Khongwatmai kept a cool head to shoot lever par, capitalising on his previous performances, which included a 67 on Saturday, to finish the day tied for second place on eight-under-par. The 17-year-old, who earned his first professional victory at the Sing Hu Hin Open aged just 14, played in The Open at Royal Troon last July.
For the second year running Khongwatmai earns his exemption through The Open Qualifying Series, having booked his place last time in Thailand. “I’m feeling really excited and really happy. Last year I didn’t think I would get in The Open – I was very lucky to have played there.
“I missed the cut but it wasn’t a problem for me because I played really good on the first day. On the second day, I played in the afternoon’s last two groups and it was very bad weather.
Khongwatmai continued, “I think this year I will play better than last year because I know what it is like and I think England is a bit better for the weather.”
Last year’s Singapore Open champion Song, 25, will make his Open debut at Royal Birkdale after closing out the tournament with a 69 to finish tied second. In 2016 the Korean recorded a slender victory over then world number one Jordan Spieth, beating the American by one stroke in a play-off to claim his maiden professional title.
“I was very close to capturing the championship again and just missed out so I didn’t realise about getting the ticket to The Open until now,” said Song. “I haven’t play any links golf before but this is a really great honour to play in The Open.”
Kruger owes his place at Royal Birkdale to a wonderful eagle at the last after his second shot skimmed over the surrounding bunkers to land within 20 feet of the pin. Kruger sunk his final putt to propel him up the leaderboard to join the mix of players on eight-under-par in second place. The South African is a three-time winner on the Sunshine Tour and will make his second appearance at The Open this summer after playing in 2012 at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
Kruger said his target was now to better that performance and make the cut at Royal Birkdale, saying, “I’m very excited, it has been a few long years for me.
“It was amazing (playing at The Open in 2012). It was probably one of my first days of links golf so I didn’t play great. I played well the first day and then on the second I just fell apart. I didn’t really know how to play links golf but I think this time it’s going to be different – I actually like it now.”
The next event in The Open Qualifying Series is the Joburg Open in South Africa from February 23 -26, 2017. Three players who finish in the top 10 and ties, and who are not otherwise exempt, will earn places at The 146th Open at Royal Birkdale.