KOBE, Japan – Korean standout Noh Seung-yul and Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa lock horns this week in an intriguing battle of Asian teen titans at the Asia-Pacific Panasonic Open.
Since their first encounter as juniors five years ago, the 19-year-olds have achieved feats beyond their years and are regarded as the leaders of Asia’s new golfing brigade.
With this week’s 150 million yen (about U.S. $1.7 million) showpiece at the Rokko Kokusai Golf Club’s East Course, they are relishing the opportunity of outdoing the other. The tournament is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and the Japan Golf Tour.
“Noh is a great player,” said Ishikawa, who was No. 1 on the Japan Tour last year and is its current money-list leader. “We first met when we were 14 in a Japan versus Korea junior match. I played against him and he beat me. I’ve been following his progress ever since.”
Noh, who is the older of the two by about four months, heads the Asian Tour Order of Merit.
“I hope we can play together in the last round,” Noh said. “It will be very exciting. The last time we played in the same group was in the Korean Open last year where he shot a couple of strokes better than me.
“I’m not so famous like Ryo. Maybe I have to win a major to be as famous as he is. It doesn’t bother me,” said Noh, who won the Maybank Malaysian Open in March.
Ishikawa is also hoping to contend this Sunday, especially given that Panasonic is one of his many sponsors.“My game is getting very good, especially my driving, which is feeling very good,” Ishikawa said. “We’ve not had a chance to play much together. Hopefully, we can play together on Sunday afternoon in the last match.”
To set up a Sunday showdown, both young stars will need to tame the par-71 course, which has punishing knee-deep rough and slick greens.
Australian Andrew Dodt, third on the Asian Tour Order of Merit and paired with Ishikawa, said: “It’s brutal. Every tee shot, you have to hit a good shot to keep it on the short stuff. If you hit a bad shot this week, you’re not getting away with it.”
Fifteen of the top-20 players from the Asian Tour’s merit list are in this week’s field and have an added incentive. The top-10 ranked players make the inaugural U.S. $6 million CIMB Asia Pacific Classic in Malaysia, while the top five not-already exempt players earn a visit to the U.S. $7 million WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat, ranked ninth on the list, is determined to put in a strong showing, especially after finishing in the top-five in Japan last weekend.
“A top-five or 10 will be good,” he said. “I’m hoping to play my best and hope to get into the big events later this year. I’m feeling good with my game.”
Japan’s Daisuke Maruyama is defending his title this week. Other top names in the field include Marcus Fraser of Australia, second behind Noh on the merit list, Japan’s Yuta Ikeda, who was victorious in Japan last week, Thai Thaworn Wiratchant, Korean Bae Sang-moon and 2008 Panasonic Open champion Hideto Tanihara.
Asian Tour contributed to this report.