Han wins Asian Am, receives Masters invite

Chang-Won Han won the inaugural Asian Amateur by five shots.

SHENZHEN, China – Chang-Won Han won the inaugural Asian Amateur on Sunday to earn an invitation to the 2010 Masters. After starting the day with a two-shot lead over countryman Eric Chun, Han doubled his lead in just two holes. Han’s final-round 70 put him at 12-under 276 at Mission Hills Golf Club’s World Cup Course, five shots better than Chun.

Three Koreans finished T-3 or better. Meen-Whee Kim (71) tied for third with New Zealand’s Peter Spearman-Burn (72) and Australia’s Jordan Sherratt (73) at 6-under 210. All seven Koreans in the field finished T-18 or better.

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HOW HE DID IT: Han’s chip-in eagle at the par-5 second hole Sunday gave him a four-shot lead. He then survived a rough patch before charging to an insurmountable lead.

Han missed a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 3 that would have given him a five-shot lead. His short par putt completely circled the cup and stopped on the edge of the lip before dropping to match Chun’s par.

Teeing off first on the par-4 fourth, Han hooked his tee shot left and had to hit a provisional, creating the possibility of a big number. Han found his first tee shot, his ball resting just a couple feet from a sign warning of poisonous snakes. He played a conservative second shot back to the fairway and left the hole with a bogey to lose just one shot from his lead.

On No. 5, Han had to hole an 8-foot par putt after his tee shot on the 227-yard par 3 came up short of the green. Chun parred the hole to stay within three shots.

Having escaped that stretch, Han made birdies on Nos. 6 and 7 to increase his lead back to four shots. He made a 8-foot birdie on the par-5 sixth, followed by a tap-in on the 417-yard seventh after almost holing his second shot. Chun also birdied the hole.

“I knew I was leading by (four shots) after the first nine holes, but I was trying not to think about the result,” Han said. “Anything can happen in a round of golf and I was very nervous towards the end.”

Han added birdies at Nos. 11 and 12 to reach 15 under par and render bogeys on three of the final five holes – including Nos. 17 and 18 – meaningless. Han said the bogeys were a result of thoughts of the Masters sneaking into his head.

“I have to admit that it was the thought of playing in the Masters that made me nervous,” Han said. “I had never even thought it would be possible for me to be playing in the Masters as an amateur.”

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IFQ DRAMA: The Asian Amateur champion and runner-up earn spots in International Final Qualifying for the 2010 British Open at The Old Course at St. Andrews. The battle for the second IFQ spot was about the only drama Sunday.

Chun’s solid play over the final three holes – a two-putt birdie on the par-5 16th, a 6-foot par save on No. 17 and a routine par on the difficult closing hole – earned him the second IFQ exemption.

Chun said he was unaware of his standing.

“I was just playing golf today,” Chun said.

Spearman-Burn and Sherratt both bogeyed No. 18 to miss earning an IFQ spot by one shot (all players tying for second earn an IFQ exemption).

Sherratt hit into vegetation right of the 18th fairway and had to punch out, while Spearman-Burn hit his second shot thin into a greenside bunker fronting the green. Both missed 10-foot par putts at the same time that Chun was making his 6-footer on No. 17.

Han and Chun can choose between the IFQ in either Singapore or Australia.

Han said he did not know about the history surrounding The Old Course at St. Andrews. Next year’s British Open will mark the 150th anniversary of the first British Open.

“When I go back to Korea, I am going to look at the Internet,” he said.

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WHAT IT MEANS: With this victory, Han establishes himself as one of the best, if not the best amateur in the Asia-Pacific region, which includes Australia and New Zealand.

Last month, Han earned medalist honors at the Nomura Cup, the Asia-Pacific Amateur Team Championship. Each Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation team entered four players in the tournament, with the top three counting toward the team score.

Korea also won the team championship at the Nomura Cup. Australia, which had won the tournament the past five years, finished sixth.

Han is the third Korean and third teenager to earn an invitation to next year’s Masters, which is significant for several reasons:

• It will mark the first time three Koreans have been in the field (Y.E. Yang and U.S. Amateur champ Byeong-Hun An are already in). Japan holds the record for most entrants from an Asian country with four in 2002.

• Amateur exemptions for the Masters last changed in 1989. Korea will become the first country in those 20 years – besides the United States – to have multiple amateur entrants in a single Masters. Korea also will become the first Asian country with multiple amateur entrants.

• This will be the first time three teenagers have qualified for a single Masters. The previous record was two, and that happened in 2004, 2000, 1999, 1967 and 1955. An, 18, and Matteo Manassero, 16, earned invitations with victories at the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur, respectively.

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