A sole amateur competitor is making waves at the Japan Golf Tour’s (JGTO) Dunlop Phoenix Tournament (¥200 million purse), an event that has attracted world-class players such as Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka (USA).
After three rounds of the 50th Dunlop Phoenix Tournament at Phoenix Country Club (Par 71, 7,042 yards) in Miyazaki, Japan on Monday, 2001-born Yuta Sugiura of Japan is alone atop the leaderboard with a 12-under par 201 total.
Sugiura, who began the tournament in second place, one stroke behind day one leader Hideki Matsuyama (JPN), shaved three strokes off his second round score to take sole possession of the lead and remain atop the leaderboard. He is four shots behind second-place Brad Kennedy (AUS) at 8-under 205.
Sugiura will attempt to become just the seventh amateur to win a major championship since the tour system was implemented in Japan in 1973.
The Dunlop Phoenix, which has been held since 1974, is the biggest event on the Japanese Tour, attracting several world-class players each year.
The trophy has been lifted by big names such as Seve Ballesteros (Spain, 1977-1981), Woods (2004-2005), Tom Watson (USA, 1980-1997) and Japanese golf icon Hideki Matsuyama (2014), but has never been won by an amateur.
This year’s field includes Matsuyama, who has eight U.S. PGA Tour victories and eight JGTO victories, including the 2021 Masters, as well as Koepka and Wyndham Clarke (USA), who both won PGA Tour majors this year, and Sugiura is behind them all.
Sugiura, who qualified for the tournament by winning the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament Challenge on Japan’s second-tier tour in September, continued his steady play with a two-stroke victory on a day when the chilly conditions and strong winds made it difficult for players to keep their strokes down.
Sugiura, who attends Nihon University, has made a name for herself since finishing tied for third at last year’s Japan Open.
He also competed for Japan at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou until early last month, where he finished fourth in the team competition and tied for 25th in the individual competition.
Sugiura, who delayed turning pro to compete in last month’s Asia Pacific Amateur Championship, which awards the winner a spot in the Masters, missed the cut and didn’t fulfill his dream, but he has made a name for himself in the big events on his home tour.
Sugiura is preparing for the third round of the JGTO Qualifying Tournament later this month, and if he wins the event and declares his pro status, he will immediately earn a JGTO seeding for next season. 파워볼