Noda City, Chiba prefecture, Japan, April 20: Jason Knutzon of the United States got his 2017 Asian Tour season off to a promising start when he took the first round lead with a seven-under-par 64 at the Panasonic OPEN Japan on Thursday.
After going through a difficult year in 2016, Knutzon is hopeful his first round result at the Chiba Country Club will now set the tone for what would be a better year in 2017.
The 41-year-old American mixed his card with eight birdies and one bogey to enjoy a two-shot advantage over Japan’s Satoshi Kodaira and Thailand’s Udorn Duangdecha who returned with a flawless 66 at the ¥150 million (approximately US$1.37million) event.
Panuphol Pittayarat, who lost his girlfriend in a tragic motorcycle accident recently, overcame his emotional pain barrier to grab a share of fourth place with a 67 while compatriot Prayad Marksaeng is four shots back of Knutzon after signing for a 68.
A multiple winner in Japan, Prayad is tied for eighth place with seven other players that include Philippines’ Juvic Pagunsan, Korea’s Younghan Song and compatriot Prom Meesawat.
The Panasonic OPEN Japan is the third event to be co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour Organisation (JGTO) this year following earlier events in Singapore and Myanmar.
Did you know?
· After playing on the Asian Tour for 13 seasons, Jason failed to retain his card for the 2017 season after an uncharacteristic run of poor results. The Panasonic OPEN Japan is Knutzon’s first event for 2017 after he received an invitation to play here this week.
· Udorn’s last win on the Asian Tour came on home soil in 2010 and he earned his place for this week’s event by finishing second at another Panasonic-sponsored tournament in Thailand last year.
· Prayad is the second oldest winner on the Asian Tour at 50 years and 357 days. He is also currently the third player after compatriots Thaworn Wiratchant (18) and Thongchai Jaidee (13) to hold the most number of wins on the Asian Tour.
· Panuphol has won two professional titles on home soil with the latest coming just a fortnight ago. He is seeking his maiden breakthrough on the Asian Tour after securing two top-10s in Bangladesh and Malaysia this year.
Jason Knutzon (Usa) - First round 64 Total (-7)
It was a crazy year last year. I had some family issues going on back home with my wife having a bad fall. With kids at home, it was just a whole crazy thing for all of us. You like to think it’ll not affect you but it does as I was trying to deal with all of that. Emotionally, it was a long year and I didn’t play very well. I obviously needed a break and you start to think of what you want to do in life. But it’s nice to get back out as I know I can still play. I felt a lot of ease on the greens as I haven’t had that feeling for a long time. It relaxes everything else. It was an awesome start and hopefully there would be more good things to come.
Udorn Duangdecha (Tha) - First round 66 (-5)
Don’t be greedy. That’s what I’ve been telling myself. If I cannot go for a birdie, just try to make par. I’ve been very lucky with my putting today and that helped. The course conditions are perfect here and it suits my game. I like to hit the ball straight and I’ve managed to achieve that today. I feel very confident when I play here.
Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn) – First round 66 (-5)
It was a comfortable round. I’ve played on this course a couple of times and I always have good feelings about it. It was slightly windy today but my caddie managed to judge the wind directions well for me. I’m sure the crowd are hoping for a Japanese winner this week and I hope not to disappoint them.
Panuphol Pittayarat (Tha) – First round 67 (-4)
It was certainly very emotional having to deal with the loss (of his girlfriend of three years). But it can be a good thing as I’m able to practise my mental strength too. I won the tournament (on the same week his girlfriend passed away) despite my loss and I’ll keep playing the way I did that week for every week from now. I had a strong support and I was not alone in dealing with it. I played good today and I’ve been striking the ball really well too. I know I’ve a good chance this week and I’m looking forward to my breakthrough on the Asian Tour.
Prayad Marksaeng (Tha) - First round 68 (-3)
I’ve played on this course on several occasions and I’m very comfortable and familiar here. The only challenge is the wind which can get very strong. I made two costly putting mistakes on holes five and 16. My score could have been even lower if not for those mistakes on the green. Every aspect of my game is good but if I need to improve on something, it would have to be my putting.
Leading Scores after round 1 of the Panasonic Open Golf Championship being played at the par 71, 7130 Yards Chiba CC course (am - denotes amateur):
64 - Jason KNUTZON (USA).
66 - Udorn DUANGDECHA (THA), Satoshi KODAIRA (JPN).
67 - Hiroshi IWATA (JPN), Hyungsung KIM (KOR), Inhoi HUR (KOR), Panuphol PITTAYARAT (THA).
68 - Prayad MARKSAENG (THA), Younghan SONG (KOR), Prom MEESAWAT (THA), Byungmin CHO (KOR), Seunghyuk KIM (KOR), Juvic PAGUNSAN (PHI), Kyungnam KANG (KOR), Lionel WEBER (FRA).
69 - Jinichiro KOZUMA (JPN), Katsumasa MIYAMOTO (JPN), I.J. JANG (KOR), Junggon HWANG (KOR), Shaun NORRIS (RSA), Kenichi KUBOYA (JPN), Brendan JONES (AUS), Kazuhiro YAMASHITA (JPN), Miguel TABUENA (PHI), Terry PILKADARIS (AUS), Masanori KOBAYASHI (JPN), Arjun ATWAL (IND), LU Wei-chih (TPE).
70 - Yujiro OHORI (JPN), Seungsu HAN (USA), Jazz JANEWATTANANOND (THA), Chikkarangappa S. (IND), K.T. KIM (KOR), Shugo IMAHIRA (JPN), Yoshinori FUJIMOTO (JPN).
71 - Sanghyun PARK (KOR), Taichi TESHIMA (JPN), Shingo KATAYAMA (JPN), Shinichi YOKOTA (JPN), CHAN Shih-chang (TPE), S.S.P CHAWRASIA (IND), Javi COLOMO (ESP), Wonjoon LEE (AUS), Phachara KHONGWATMAI (THA), Tomohiro KONDO (JPN), Daisuke MARUYAMA (JPN), Danthai BOONMA (THA), Chapchai NIRAT (THA), Scott VINCENT (ZIM), Rashid KHAN (IND), Kodai ICHIHARA (JPN), Rattanon WANNASRICHAN (THA), Rikuya HOSHINO (JPN), Daisuke KATAOKA (JPN), Pavit TANGKAMOLPRASERT (THA), Ryuko TOKIMATSU (JPN), Mingyu CHO (KOR), Ryutaro NAGANO (JPN), Sungjae IM (KOR).