Gate Way To The Open Mizuno Open 2024

Song one back as Horikawa and Akutsu lead

Song one back as Horikawa and Akutsu lead

South Korea's Song Young-han is eyeing a potential return to The Open Championship after seven years, following a strong start at the Gateway to The Open Mizuno Open on Thursday.

The 32-year-old delivered a stellar performance, carding a seven-under-par 65 at the JFE Setonaikai Golf Club, placing him in a tie for third and just one shot off the lead.

Song, who has secured two top-10 finishes in his first five outings this season, began the round aggressively, birdieing four of his opening five holes before scoring an eagle on the par-five sixth.

In the back nine, he added two more birdies but dropped a lone bogey on the 16th hole, positioning him one shot back of behind Mikumu Horikawa and Mikiya Akutsu.

Song credited his impressive round to a new putter, which has performed exceptionally well for him.

He needed just 24 putts to navigate the course.

"I felt like the putts were rolling in smoothly," said Song, who boasts two JGTO titles, including the Sansan KBC Augusta last year.

"I swapped out my putter last Sunday. I can't pinpoint the exact reason why, but regardless, the change has been beneficial.

"My previous putter had been struggling for a while, so after experiencing success with the new one at the KBC last year, I was initially hesitant to switch. 

"However, I eventually felt that its effectiveness had diminished, prompting me to make the change. The new putter provides a sense of confidence."

In 2017, Song made his debut at The Open, progressing to the weekend rounds before finishing tied 62nd at Royal Birkdale Golf Club.

He earned his spot through a top-four finish at the SMBC Singapore Open, which was part of the Open Qualifying Series earlier that year.

With his promising start at the Gateway to The Open Mizuno Open, Song is aiming to secure his second appearance at The Open Championship. This week's event offers tickets to the Royal Troon Golf Club for its top three finishers.

"I've had the opportunity once before, in 2017. I'm aiming to qualify for the Open Championship with a top-three finish. I haven't achieved high placements this year, so I'm hoping for a strong performance this week to earn my place."

"Looking back at 2017, I remember the weather being quite challenging, but overall, it was an enjoyable experience."

Compatriot Koh Gun-taek, last year's Shinhan Donghae Open winner, also got off to a strong start, carding a 67 to tie for eighth place.

Horikawa and Akutsu's bogey-free round, featuring eight birdies, clearly distinguished them from the rest of the field.

Leading first round scores: 

64: Mikumu Horikawa, Mikiya Akutsu;

65: Song Young-han (Kor), Shugo Imahira;

66: Kenya Nakayama, Jinichiro Kozuma, Kensei Hirata;

67: Kota Kaneko, Taiga Sugihara, Koh Gun-taek (Kor), Ryoma Iwai;

68: Ryo Katsumata, Tomoyo Ikemura, Taiga Nagano, Michael Hendry (Nzl).