Nagano leads, Knutzon trails by 1 At Panasonic Open Golf Championship

Jason KnutzonChiba, Japan: Jason Knutzon of the United States overcame a hip injury to shoot a five-under-par 66 and trail first round leader Ryutaro Nagano of Japan by one shot at the Panasonic Open Golf Championship on Thursday.

Knutzon, a two-time Asian Tour winner but not since 2007, produced a flawless round which was matched by Nagano, who continued his fine form at the Chiba Country Club, after posting a third place result in Japan last week.

Wu Ashun of China, a member of Team Asia in the EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM, was bunched in third place alongside Japanese Yuta Ikeda, Azuma Yano and Hidemasa Hoshino, Sanghyun Park of Korea and Chapchai Nirat of Thailand on 67s.

After enjoying marital bliss in early April, Shiv Kapur of India fired a 68 to share seventh place with Thailand’s Panuphol Pittayarat as they trail the leader by three shots in the 150 million Yen (approx. US$1.27 million) event sanctioned by the Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour.

Despite experiencing some pain in his hip midway through the round, the 40-year-old Knutzon remained steadfast as he returned with five birdies in the cold but calmer morning conditions.

“I don’t know if it is turning 40 or what but I’ve had it (hip injury) since the start of the year. I’ve been on the physio table a lot. The injury popped up again on my back nine but I was fortunate to hole some putts,” said Knutzon.

“Hopefully the body holds up. I’ve been fighting a few injuries. It is day one so it is hard to get too excited. We were fortunate to tee off around 7am. We played a few holes without the wind but it started to blow in the afternoon,” he added.

Nagano, who is chasing for a first career victory, fired three birdies in each half highlighted by a hat-trick of birdies from the 11th hole to set the early pace. He was delighted to take advantage of his early start where conditions were calmer as compared to the blustery afternoon conditions.

“I’ve been fortunate in terms of weather conditions these past two weeks, and I was able to capitalize today by finding my rhythm before the wind started to pick up. I was really lucky because of that,” said Nagano.

“I had a lot of opportunities to get closer to the pin, some shots were good and some shots could have been better. The course is narrow so I didn’t swing it as hard as I would normally do but overall I’m happy with how with how I played,” he added.

The big-hitting Chapchai, a four-time Asian Tour winner, bounced back from a poor putting spell last week as he negotiated the greens in 25 putts today.

“I played in Japan last week and missed a lot of short putts. It is better today so I’m happy. Have I been playing well? I think I can do better. I’m hungry for a win in Japan. I’ve not won here before so it will be nice to win,” said the Thai.

India’s Kapur, who has won once on the Asian Tour, fired a solid 68 in his first tournament in nearly a month after getting married to Maya on April 3 on the holiday isle of Bali.

“It has been a good year so far. Getting married is really a blessing. I feel like I’m in a good place in my personal life. My golf game just needs to get a notch better and I’ll be very, very happy,” said Kapur.

Scores after round 1 of the Panasonic Open Golf Championship being played at the par 71, 7130 Yards Chiba CC course (am - denotes amateur):

65 - Ryutaro NAGANO (JPN).

66 - Jason KNUTZON (USA).

67 - Sanghyun PARK (KOR), Hidemasa HOSHINO (JPN), Chapchai NIRAT (THA), Ashun WU (CHN), Azuma YANO (JPN), Yuta IKEDA (JPN).

68 - Panuphol PITTAYARAT (THA), Kazuhiro YAMASHITA (JPN), Shiv KAPUR (IND), Akio SADAKATA (JPN).

69 - K.T. KIM (KOR), Shugo IMAHIRA (JPN), Rahil GANGJEE (IND), Younghan SONG (KOR), Kodai ICHIHARA (JPN).

70 - Satoshi TOMIYAMA (JPN), Atomu SHIGENAGA (JPN), Hyungsung KIM (KOR), Toru TANIGUCHI (JPN), HUNG Chien-yao (TPE), Chawalit PLAPHOL (THA), Yu MORIMOTO (JPN), Wonjoon LEE (AUS), Kiyoshi MIYAZATO (JPN), Adam BLAND (AUS).