Matsuyama highlights Asian Amateur field

Hideki Matsuyama of Japan stands with the trophy after winning the 2010 Asian Amateur Championship at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama highlights the field for the third annual Asian Amateur Championship, which begins Thursday at Singapore Island Country Club.

Augusta National, the R&A and the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation formed the Asian Amateur two years ago as a way to develop competitive golf in the region. The Asian Amateur champion earns a Masters invitation, while the top two finishers are exempt into International Final Qualifying for next year’s Open Championship.

Matsuyama went on to finish 27th and earn low-amateur honors at this year’s Masters, a performance that validated this young event. He’s risen to fifth in the R&A World Amateur Golf Ranking since last year’s five-shot victory over Australia’s Tarquin MacManus at Japan’s Kasumigaseki Country Club.

Though Matsuyama has established himself as a one of the world’s top amateurs, the depth of the Asian Amateur field is still questionable. There are only five top-50 players in the field. New Zealand Stroke Play champion Ryan Fox, at No. 21 in the R&A World Amateur Golf Ranking, is the second-highest-ranked player in the field, followed by Australia’s Jake Higginbottom (39), New Zealand’s Ben Campbell (44) and Australian Amateur champ Matthew Stieger (46). Campbell finished fourth at last year’s Asian Amateur.

The field also includes former Texas Tech player Matthew Smith (Australia), former Washington player Tze-Huang Choo (Singapore), UCLA’s Alex Shi Yup Kim (Korea) and Northwestern’s Eric Chun (Korea).

If Kim wins, he'd join UCLA teammate Patrick Cantlay at next year's Masters. Chun was runner-up in the 2009 Asian Amateur, which earned him an exemption into International Final Qualifying for the 2010 Open Championship. He went on to qualify for the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews.

This year’s field of 120 players is a tournament record. Thirty-five of the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation’s 36 countries are represented in the field, also a record. Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Macau, Solomon Islands and Qatar are first-time participants.

Singapore, the host country, is well represented in the field with 10 players, including top-ranked amateurs Joshua Shou and Lam Zhiqun. Zhiqun won this year’s Singapore Amateur.

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