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Tani graduates top of the class at Q-School

Akinori TaniKOTA KINABALU, Malaysia, Feb 8 - Japan's Akinori Tani held his nerve with a final-round even-par 71 on Friday to win OneAsia's Q-School at Sutera Harbour Golf & Country Club and book his place into all the tour's million-dollar tournaments for 2013.

Tani, who led from the second round, finished the tournament at seven under -- two strokes ahead of hard-charging Canadian Richard Lee, who shot a tournament-best 63 to finish runner-up.

Koreans Park Il-hwan (68) and Won Doo-kyun (73) shared third, a shot further back.

Nearly 200 players from around the world signed up for Q-School this year. Ten spots went to the top finishers at last week's qualifier at Industry Hills Golf Club in Los Angeles, California, and 14 to Sutera Harbour.

The winners of both legs of Q-School are guaranteed starts at all OneAsia's tournaments in 2013, while those who finish second and third will likely start most events. Positions are then accorded proportionally between the Malaysian and U.S. Q-Schools.

Tani lost his card after finishing 79th on the Japan Golf Tour Organisation's (JGTO) Order of Merit last year and was looking for a new tour to supplement the exemptions he will get at home.

"I am really pleased to get onto OneAsia," he said. "I was a bit nervous in the last round, but I got the job done. I'm now looking forward to playing all the events -- particularly the first two."

Tani was referring to the Thailand Open (March 14 -17) and Indonesian PGA Championship (March 28 - 31),  which will be sanctioned by both OneAsia and the JGTO as part of a burgeoning partnership between the tours. Earnings from the two events count towards both Orders of Merit.

At 38, Tani was one of the most experienced players in the field -- evidenced by him recruiting professional Malaysian caddy Mazlan Bulan to carry his bag while much of the field made do with part-timers.

Bulan, who has worked in the past for Malaysian Danny Chia and Chinese ace Zhang Lianwei, proved invaluable around around the tricky 6,440-metre (6,867-yard) seaside course.

"He really knows the greens so I just took his advice," said Tani. "This is a really important tournament, so I wanted to do my best."

Runner-up Lee will be spoilt for choice on where to play this year having also finished second at the Asian Tour's Q-School in Thailand last month.

Canadian-born to Korean parents, Lee lost his card last season after four years on the Tour and is now considering a permanent move to the Asia-Pacific.

"I'll talk it over with my parents," said Lee, 22, who turned pro after competing in the U.S. Open as a 17-year-old in 2007.

"On the Asian Tour you have to go step-by-step and play well to get in the big ones, but here (OneAsia) there is a lot more money and it looks a lot more competitive.

"Basically I'll try to follow the money."

OneAsia was founded in 2009 by the China Golf Association, the Korea Golf Tour, the Korea Golf Association and the PGA of Australia.

It has since doubled in size, and the tour's elite suite of tournaments now includes the national Opens of Australia, China, Korea and Thailand -- as well as numerous other prestigious events.

The first event of the 2013 season will be the U.S.$ 1 million Thailand Open from March 14-17.

Final Q-School rankings (24 places):

Category 5a  -- winner of any OneAsia Tournament (previous two years) and each Qualifying School Final Stage (latest):
1 - Akinori TANI (JPN), winner Sabah Q-School; 2 - Eric MINA (USA), winner California Q-School

Category 7a -- second and third positions:
1 - Richard T LEE (CAN), 2nd Sabah; 2 - PARK Il-hwan (KOR), 3rd Sabah; 3 - LIM Hyun-seok (KOR), 2nd California; 4 - John Young KIM (USA), 3rd California

Category 9a - fourth to 14th positions:
1 - WON Doo-kyun (KOR), 4th Sabah; 2 - HUANG Tao (TPE), 5th Sabah; 3 - Steven ALKER (NZL),  4th California; 4 - Shi KIM (KOR),  5th California; 5 - KANG Ji-man (KOR), 6th Sabah; 6 - CHAN Shih-chang (TPE), 7th Sabah; 7 - Rhein GIBSON (AUS), 6th California; 8 - PARK Sung-joon (KOR), 7th California; 9 - PARK Sung-hyuk (KOR), 8th Sabah; 10 - KIM Young-kyu (KOR), 9th Sabah; 11 - Ryan YIP (CAN), 8th California; 12 - IM Jae-woo (KOR), 9th California; 13 - LIM Seung-eun (KOR), 10th Sabah; 14 - Dino GIACOMAZZI Jr. (USA), 10th California; 15 - Michael CHOI (AUS), 11th Sabah; 16 - KIM Jun-kyum (KOR), 12th Sabah; 17 - SHIN Hyuk-chul (KOR), 13th Sabah; 18 - LEE Dae-jun (KOR), 14th Sabah