All eyes on the prize at Asian Amateur Championship

Players on the driving range ahead of the 2010 Asian Amateur Championship at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe City, Japan.

KAWAGOE, Japan – Masamichi Ito will have to wipe the sleep from his eyes as he sets out to win a place in next year’s Masters.

The 15-year-old Japanese sensation tees off at 7:18 a.m. Thursday in the opening round of the second Asian Amateur Championship on the West Course at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

That means an early night and a 4:30 a.m. alarm call to give him plenty of time to prepare mentally and physically for what promises to be a thrilling challenge.

Ito is on a high following his success in the Faldo Series Europe Grand Final in Northern Ireland a fortnight ago and is already being widely touted as the “next Ryo Ishikawa.”

Ishikawa, winner of last year’s Japan Golf Tour money list, already has played at Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club. And Ito knows well that the Asian Amateur offers the winner a starting spot in the 2011 Masters as well as entry to International Final Qualifying – Asia for the British Open.

Despite such enticing rewards, many of the region’s most notable amateurs are conspicuous by their absence – Koreans Jin Jeong and Byeong-hun An among them. Jeong, the British Amateur champion, saw little incentive. He already has a spot at the ’11 Masters and plans to turn professional soon after.

Also missing are last year’s champion Han Chang-won of Korea and China’s Mu Hu, both of whom have turn professional.

Northwestern University (USA) junior Eric Chun, last year’s runner-up, will be aiming to go one better this week. He made his British Open debut at St. Andrews in July.

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