Katayama and Hoshino stay ahead of the chasing pack
Osaka, Japan, April 19: Japan’s Shingo Katayama and Rikuya Hoshino took the early honours when they returned with matching seven-under-par 64s for a share of the first round lead at the Panasonic Open Golf Championship on Thursday.
Japan’s Ryosuke Kinoshita fired an eagle-three at the last hole to take outright third place on 65 while the fourth place was shared by seven players that included defending champion Kenichi Kuboya who posted a 66.
Malaysia’s Ben Leong, who welcomed the arrival of his baby boy on Monday, enjoyed a promising start to his campaign when he posted a 67 to end the day tied for 11 at the JP¥150,000,000 (approx. US$1,370,000) event that is sanctioned by the Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour Organisation (JGTO).
Thailand’s Prom Meesawat and veteran Prayad Marksaeng also opened their accounts encouragingly when they signed for matching 68s at the Panasonic Open Golf Championship, which is also the concluding leg of the Panasonic Swing series.
Katayama, who finished in eighth place on the JGTO money list last season, has never got the job done despite getting off to good starts at the Ibaraki Country Club before. But at 45, the flamboyant Japanese believes he is now older and wiser to contend for the title: “I like to hear ‘Nice Play’ from the crowd. The conditions were ideal today as there was not much wind and I was pretty consistent with my shots and putting. I bought a massager from Panasonic with the prize money I won last week and I really like it. The massaging functions were really good and it helped me relax, ” said Katayama.
“After playing in the final group last week, I was thinking why was I not in the position to win the tournament. I realized it was not my golf skills, but my mental strength. So I learned from it and decided to keep my focus. I’ve played here a few times and I remember leading a tournament here before. I carded an eight-under in my first round. But that time I was much younger, so I went out drinking in the city after that I played really poorly. I’m pretty much settled now so I will not going to make the same mistake.”
Rikuya Hoshino landed several shots close to the pin: “During the off season, I took time to build up on my physical strength. I focused a lot on my lower body to keep myself fit. I like this golf course. It is challenging but it suits my game. The last time I played here was in 2016 and my goal for this year is to get a win as soon as possible and hopefully qualify for US Open and the Open,” said Hoshino.
Leong found bliss on and off the golf course as the new father emerged as the leading Malaysian. The 32-year-old is currently three shots off the pace and is seeking to end a decade-long drought on the Asian Tour. “It has been a couple of weeks since we last teed up on the Asian Tour and it’s nice to get off to a good start. It was bumpy for my first nine holes with lots of bogeys and birdies. But I settled down in my back-nine and told myself not to give up and just do my best,” said Leong.
“The arrival of my baby boy has given me lots of joy and new responsibilities too. My wife was not supposed to be due on Monday. He’s our first child and we don’t know when he’s going to come as it might be late or early. My wife has been really supportive and she told me, you don’t know when he’s going to come, so don’t miss this chance. So I’m going to give my 100% this week.“
Prom Meesawat will be relying on his playing experience in Japan to notch his first Asian Tour win since 2014: “It’s always nice to get off to a good start especially on golf courses in Japan. They are always very challenging as you got to be really accurate here by getting your ball onto the fairways on greens. This is the third time I’m playing here. Your iron shots must be sharp to get yourself into a good position over here. I’ve been playing in Japan for a long time and that experience has helped me a lot especially today.”
Did you know?
· Shingo Katayama turned professional in 1995 and he topped the JGTO money list five times- 2000, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2008.
· He has won 31 tournaments on the Japan Golf Tour and his last win came at the ISPS HANDA Match Play Championship last year.
· Katayama finished tied-fifth at the Token Homemate Cup in Nagoya last week.
· Rikuya Hoshino regards Ryo Ishikawa as his big brother and used to attend the same training camp as Ishikawa.
· He started playing golf at the age of six and turned professional in 2016 when he was 20 years old.
· He is highly rated as one of the longest hitters on JGTO and was ranked ninth in their driving distance category last year. His average driving distance was 292 yards today.
· Ben Leong got married in June 2017 and he welcomed his baby boy just three days ago on Monday.
· Leong’s best result in five starts on the Asian Tour so far was a tied-23rd finish at the Asian Tour season opening event in Singapore.
· He also holds the distinction of topping the Asian Tour’s Qualifying School in successive years at the end of 2006 and 2007
· He turned professional after representing Malaysia in the Asian Games in Doha in 2006 and enjoyed a good amateur career, highlighted by his triumphs in the Putra Cup.
· Leong’s last win on the Asian Tour was in 2008 at the Worldwide Holdings Selangor Masters. He also holds one win on the Asian Development Tour.
· Prom Meesawat finished ninth at the ISPS HANDA World Super Six in Perth. It remains as his best result on the Asian Tour this year.
· The Thai is a two-time Asian Tour winner and he enjoyed four top-10 finishes in the last two months of 2017.
Leading scores after round 1 of the Panasonic Open Golf Championship being played at the par 71, 7343 Yards Ibaraki CC course (am – denotes amateur):
64 – Shingo KATAYAMA (JPN), Rikuya HOSHINO (JPN).
65 – Ryosuke KINOSHITA (JPN).
66 – Jinichiro KOZUMA (JPN), Masahiro KAWAMURA (JPN), Kenichi KUBOYA (JPN), Sanghee LEE (KOR), Kodai ICHIHARA (JPN), Brad KENNEDY (AUS), Hyungsung KIM (KOR).
67 – Giwhan KIM (KOR), Michael HENDRY (NZL), Ben LEONG (MAS), Sanghyun PARK (KOR), Thanyakon KHRONGPHA (THA).
68 – Kyungnam KANG (KOR), Prom MEESAWAT (THA), Yujiro OHORI (JPN), Prayad MARKSAENG (THA), Koichi KITAMURA (JPN), Jazz JANEWATTANANOND (THA), Hiroyuki FUJITA (JPN), Chikkarangappa S. (IND).
69 – Yamato SHIRAISHI (am, JPN), Konosuke NAKAZATO (JPN), Nicholas FUNG (MAS), Shaun NORRIS (RSA), Shinji TOMIMURA (JPN), Rahil GANGJEE (IND), Yuki INAMORI (JPN), Shohei KARIMATA (JPN), HUNG Chien-yao (TPE), Panuphol PITTAYARAT (THA), Ajeetesh SANDHU (IND), S.S.P. CHAWRASIA (IND).