Yomiuri Classic: Punching tickets for St. Andrews

Ryo Ishikawa at the Japan Tour's The Crowns, where he shot a final-round 58 to win.

Ryo Ishikawa at the Japan Tour's The Crowns, where he shot a final-round 58 to win.

TOKYO, Japan – Reputations and places in next month’s Open Championship are on the line at this week’s 130 million yen (US$1.4 million) Gate Way to the Open Mizuno Open Yomiuri Classic.

Defending champion Ryo Ishikawa headlines the field in a tournament that potentially offers as many as six starting spots at the 150th anniversary Open Championship at St. Andrews.

Teenager Ishikawa is already guaranteed his place at the “Home of Golf” from July 15-18, but he’s desperately searching for the consistency that helped him win the Japan Golf Tour Organization (JGTO) Money List last year.

One of his four successes in 2009 came at the Yomiuri Country Club, but this year has been a mixed bag to date for Ishikawa – a win at The Crowns on the back of a world-record round of 58 but has two missed cuts on tour.

There were encouraging signs at Pebble Beach in last week’s U.S. Open where he was joint seventh going into the final round before stuttering to an 80 on Sunday.

Like Ishikawa, Yuta Ikdea, Hiroyuki Fujita, Koumei Oda and Ryuichi Oda are all already exempt for St. Andrews, meaning there will be a minimum of five Japanese taking the high road to Scotland in July.

And the size of the Japanese contingent could conceivably double this week.

In the Open Championship’s Category 26 for exempt players, the leading four players in the Mizuno Open Yomiuri Classic, not otherwise exempt, will win starting spots.

So, too, will the first two and anyone tying for second place not already exempt in a cumulative money list taken from all official 2010 JGTO events up to and including the Mizuno Open Yomiuri Classic.

With such incentives, it’s little wonder why such a strong field has assembled for what is one of the JGTO’s most important tournaments.

As well as all the leading Japanese players, China’s Liang Wen-chong and Wu Ashun, Thais Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Prayad Marksaeng, triumphant here in 2008, and Frankie Minoza of the Philippines are all primed to produce their best form.

Keep an eye out, too, for Korean Kim Kyung-tae, a winner in Japan already this season and No. 68 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He will be among the favorites along with compatriot SK Ho, who has played in The Open on numerous occasions.

Included in the Australian representation are Kurt Barnes, Brad Andrews, Brendan Jones, Paul Sheehan, Steve Conran and Craig Parry while David Smail flies the flag for New Zealand.

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