Nikano birdies final hole to claim last NZ Open spot

Rintaro Nikano secured the final spot in the New Zealand Open after winning the qualifying...
Rintaro Nikano secured the final spot in the New Zealand Open after winning the qualifying tournament at Cromwell yesterday. PHOTO: GOLF NZ
Rintaro Nikano has secured the final spot in the New Zealand Open field, winning the final qualifying event at Cromwell Golf Club with a sensational 7-under-65 yesterday.

The 101st-ranked amateur in the world amateur rankings and reigning Japan Amateur champion birdied the final hole of the day to come out on top of the 39-player field competing for the final place in the field at Millbrook Resort this week,.

Nikano finished a stroke ahead of New Zealander Ryan Chisnall and Australian James Gibellini.

He joins Australians Corey Lamb, Samuel Slater, and Andrew Evans, who made the field at the final qualifying event in Australia, as well as Jared Edwards and John Um, who got through final qualifying at Royal Auckland and Grange Golf Club last week.

Following seven birdies and a bogey, he stood on the 18th tee at 6-under, tied with Chisnall and Gibellini, who had already finished.

Nikano proceeded to pipe a drive down the right side of the fairway, hit an eight iron to a flag he could not see to just under 90cm, and rolled the birdie putt in to punch his ticket into the field of New Zealand’s national open.

He said he was ecstatic to have won the last qualifying event.

"When I arrived, I didn’t think I was going to win. I just thought I would try my best and see what would happen, and I won.

"I knew on 18 what I needed to do. We were doing digital scorecards today, so I was able to check the leaderboard.

"I knew if I made a par, I would be in a playoff. So I tried hard to make a birdie, and I’m happy I did," Nikano said.

"I’m going to try my best at the New Zealand Open this week."

The 20-year-old is no stranger to competing on some of golf’s big stages, having played in several Japan Tour events and, more recently, the Sony Open in Hawaii on the PGA Tour.

His best performances in a professional tournament include a tie for 15th at the Fujisankei Classic and a tie for 18th at the Vantelin Tokai Classic, both on the Japan Tour.

He travelled to New Zealand six weeks ago for the second time to learn English and practise before yesterday’s final qualifying event.

He is the fifth amateur to qualify for the New Zealand Open, which is the third major event on the Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia, jointly sanctioned with the Asian Tour and in partnership with the Japan Golf Tour.

It is the tour’s penultimate event, and offers a prize purse of $NZ2 million and quadruple-weighted order of merit points as the battle for three DP World Tour cards heats up.

— Staff reporter