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).
Japan’s Yuta Sugiura, born in 2001, is in sole possession of the lead after the third round of the 50th Dunlop Phoenix Tournament at Phoenix Country Club (Par 71, 7,042 yards) in Miyazaki, Japan, on Aug. 18 with a 12-under par 201.
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.
While the trophy has been lifted by some of the biggest names in the game, including Seve Ballesteros (Spain, 1977-1981), Woods (2004-2005), Tom Watson (USA, 1980-1997) and Japanese golf icon Hideki Matsuyama (2014), it 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 at the end of the month, where he will earn a JGTO seeding for next season if he wins and declares himself a pro.
“It’s a big lead, but I want to focus on each shot and play with no regrets,” Sugiura said. “I’m playing in a place like this for the first time, so I want to enjoy it. I want to enjoy the remaining 18 holes and win the title.”
Sugiura, who will be paired with 49-year-old veteran Kennedy and this season’s JGTO money leader Keita Nakajima (JPN) in the final round, said: “Nakajima is a professional I respect and I think he’s great. I’m looking forward to playing with him tomorrow.” 토토사이트