Royal Birkdale Beckons for Qualifiers

Phachara Khongwatmai (far left), Prayad Marksaeng (second left), Jbe Kruger (second right) and Song Young-han have qualified for July's Open Championship. Picture by Paul Lakatos/Lagardère Sports
Phachara Khongwatmai (far left), Prayad Marksaeng (second left), Jbe Kruger (second right) and Song Young-han have qualified for July’s Open Championship. Picture by Paul Lakatos/Lagardère Sports

Singapore: Thais Prayad Marksaeng and Phachara Khongwatmai, Korean Song Young-han and South African Jbe Kruger have secured their places in The Open after qualifying at the SMBC Singapore Open.
The 51st playing of Singapore’s national Open was the second event in The Open Qualifying Series for The 146th Open at Royal Birkdale which will be played from July 20-23. 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 Prayad, who lifted the trophy after a closing round of four-under-par 67 saw him finish at the top of the leaderboard on nine-under at Sentosa Golf Club, a Golf Course Facility Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.
“I’m so happy. This is number six for me and I am just so proud to be in The Open and make the Thai people proud of me also,” said Prayad, who has appeared in The Open on five previous occasions.
“Before I came 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,” added Prayad, who is set to play in the Senior Open at Royal Porthcawl the week after Birkdale.
Rising teenage star Phachara kept a cool head to shoot a closing lever-par and finish tied for second place on eight-under. The 17-year-old, who earned his first professional victory when aged 14, played in The Open at Royal Troon last July.
“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.
“I think this year I will play better than last year because I know what it is like,” said Phachara, who also earned his 2016 exemption through The Open Qualifying Series.
Meanwhile, last year’s Singapore Open champion Song will make his Open debut at Royal Birkdale.
“I didn’t realise about getting the ticket to The Open. I haven’t played any links golf before but this is a really great honour to play in The Open,” said the 25-year-old who posted a slender victory over then world number one Jordan Spieth at Sentosa in 2016.
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 sank the putt to propel him up the leaderboard to join the mix of players on eight-under 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.
He said: “I’m very excited. It’s been a few long years for me. I’ll definitely look back at that eagle. To finish birdie, par, eagle is very special.
“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 like it now.”

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