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Golf: Matsuyama drops back at Open; Korea’s An makes first major cut

Korea’s An Byeong-hun, 22, carded a 71 at The Open Championship on Friday to make his first cut at a major, having competed in the first three majors of 2010 following his 2009 US Amateur win. Photos: AFP.

Korea’s An Byeong-hun, 22, carded a 71 at The Open Championship on Friday to make his first cut at a major, having competed in the first three majors of 2010 following his 2009 US Amateur win. Photos: AFP.

July 19, 2014: Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama (69-74) and Korean An Byeong-hun (72-71) – both aged 22 – moved to one-under to finish as Asia’s top performers at the halfway stage of The Open Championship.

 

Thongchai Jaidee, twice their age, carded a second even-par 72, while Japan’s Koumei Oda just made the cut after following his opening 69 with a birdie-free 77 at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in northwest England.

 

However, Korean legend KJ Choi and Thai youngster Kiradech Aphibarnrat both missed the cut by one after each shot 75 following late birdies to finish three-over with Japanese veteran Yoshinobu Tsukada (69-78). India No. 1 Anirban Lahiri (75-75), struggling with a fever, and Filipino Juvic Pagunsan (76-73) also missed the weekend.

 

Matsuyama, the current World No. 15 who won his first PGA Tour title last month, played again in a marquee group with leader Rory McIlroy (66-66) and Jordan Spieth (71-75). The 2013 Japan Tour money list winner was three under after 10 holes on Friday, but bogeyed 12, 15, 17 and 18 to fall into a share of 24th.

 

Japan No. 1 Hideki Matsuyama, 22, bogeyed three of his last four holes to card a 74 on Friday and drop back to one-under at Royal Liverpool. Photo: AFP.

Japan No. 1 Hideki Matsuyama, 22, carded a 74 on Friday to drop back to one-under at Royal Liverpool. Photo: AFP.

An – ranked World No. 383 – had a steady round, as the Florida-based Korean made up for an early bogey at the second with birdies on 10 and 16 to make the cut at a major for the first time. An competed in the first three majors of 2010 after winning the US Amateur a year earlier, at the age of 17.

 

Thongchai, 44, got off to a stunning start on Friday with three birdies in his first five holes – chipping in for birdie on the first – before his charge veered slightly off course. The six-time European Tour winner dropped five bogeys against two more birdies to stay at even-par alongside the likes of holder Phil Mickelson (74-70).

 

“I started really well on the front, but struggled on the back nine,” said Thongchai, currently World No. 34. “It was difficult to adjust as it got windy. Even the par fives, it was tough to play those holes. Anyway, it’s a good round, I’m happy to make the cut and that’s the important thing.”

 

Thongchai, Asia’s second-ranked player behind Matsuyama, was delighted with the quality of his ball striking after struggling with his iron play in the opening round.

“My performance was better than yesterday. In the wind, you just have to keep the ball in play, which is quite difficult. It was very tough,” said Thongchai, who won in Sweden last month and recently posted top-five finishes in Germany and France. “You need to be patient and keep the ball on the fairways and greens. I chipped in for birdie at the first, but then found two fairway bunkers, which made it tough, but I’m pleased that I hit my irons very good.”

 

Thai legend Thongchai Jaidee, 44, held on in strong winds to card a second 72. Photo: Asian Tour.

Thai legend Thongchai Jaidee, 44, held on in strong winds to card a second 72. Photo: Asian Tour.

Thongchai is seeking to better his best Open outing of tied 13th in 2009, but said he must play smart golf to move up the leaderboard.

 

“There’s no need to be long on this course, just avoid the bunkers, but it’s difficult if the wind blows. On the last hole, I hit it good, but still found the bunker,” said Thongchai, a three-time winner of the Asian Tour Order of Merit. “For me, I keep learning although I have spent a lot of time playing golf in Europe. It’s good to be here for a major championship. If we get ourselves into all the majors, I want to do it. It’s a good life.”

 

Missing the weekend

 

Kiradech, Thongchai’s young compatriot, suffered from back-to-back bogeys at 14 and 15 as he missed the cut at The Open for a second straight year, while the 44-year-old Choi also suffered a similar fate, with two bogeys in his last five holes. Kiradech took solace in his ball-striking, which he said was nearly back to its best following last year’s season to remember, as he won the 2013 Asian Tour Order of Merit.

 

“I still hit the ball really well, but I was struggling a lot around the greens. My chipping and putting were not good. I missed a few short putts. I missed a one-footer on the third hole. I’ve never missed from that distance in my life,” Kiradech said

 

“I managed to come back with a few birdies, but I couldn’t birdie 16 and 18 (both par fives). I tried my best. Hit the ball quite well and solid, but I just couldn’t sink my putts. I was trying so hard. I was in the greenside bunker on 18 but couldn’t get it up and down for birdie. I forced myself too much but I’m happy with how I played.

 

“Making the cut in a major is important, but I think I’ve got my confidence back as I’m starting to hit the ball well again. I’m looking forward to picking up a trophy in the second half of the year.”

 

Lahiri, the current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader, admitted he was pleased to compete for two days after struggling to shake off the effects of viral fever, which he suffered from since Monday.

 

“I would have pulled out if this was a normal tour event. I’m feeling terrible. Bad fever and body ache all day. I was contemplating whether to play or not, but I didn’t want to pull out as I wanted to walk down the 18th and see the Indian flag once more,” said the 27-year-old after his second appearance in the world’s oldest major.

 

“It was hard; it was very hard. I thought about pulling out for a long time, but my manager and the family I’m staying with had a chat with me and I’m glad that I played. I wasn’t sure I was going to finish. On the seventh and eighth, I was totally out of it, but somehow I kept going. I’m glad I did as it’s been fantastic.”

 

Japan’s Hiroshi Iwata (70-77) agonisingly posted double bogeys on the last two holes to miss the cut by one, while compatriot Yoshinobu Tsukada (69-78) bogeyed 17 and 18 to also finish three-over.

 

Japanese youngster Ryo Ishikawa (74-74), Taiwanese amateur Pan Tseng-chung (74-74) and Korean duo Kim Hyung-sung (72-76) and Kim Hyung-tae (75-73) all finished four-over. Others to miss the cut included Korea’s YE Yang (75-76) and China’s Alex Wu Ashun (75-76)

 

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