ANA Open Golf Tournament 2023

Kozuma survives gruelling test to lead

Kozuma survives gruelling test to lead

Jinichiro Kozuma sailed through his 33-hole marathon on Saturday with flying colours, taking a slender one-shot lead after three rounds at the ANA Open Golf Tournament in Hokkaido Prefecture."

With the second round play suspended on Friday due to fading light, Kozuma returned to the Sapporo Golf Club in the morning to complete his remaining 16 holes.

The 29-year-old fired an impressive eight-under-par 64, taking the lead at the halfway point, and then followed up with a third-round 69 to reach 16-under-par 200, just one shot ahead of Taiki Yoshida and three in front of Hideto Tanihara.

Kozuma expressed relief after overcoming fatigue and declining visibility towards the end of his third round.

Though dusk was approaching, he chose to finish his play instead of postponing it to the next day.

"Visibility was challenging, I felt physically drained, and my shots weren't connecting well Kozuma commented.

"I told myself that I needed to conclude this round and focus on the finale. As a result, I was determined in pushing through, even picking up my pace significantly towards the conclusion.

"The darkness set in around the 14th hole. Seeing the line and following the ball became a test, forcing me to rely more on instinct.

"The long putts I succeeded in were a boon, especially given the tumultuous conditions towards the round's close."

Kozuma will aim to prove his worth, having struggled to build on his Token Homemate Cup victory from last season and displaying less-than-impressive form of late.

This year, Kozuma's best finish has been a T13, a position he reached twice, most recently at the Sansan KBC Augusta.

"Whether I'm in the sole lead, tied, or chasing, it didn't matter. As long as I'm up there," said Kozuma.

"I want to give it my all tomorrow. I believe it'll be challenging, but I want to cherish every single shot."

Yoshida, in his second season on the JGTO, signed for a third consecutive 67 to give himself a genuine shot at fighting for his maiden title.

"I expect everyone to perform well on the final day, so I aim to achieve my target score - a five-under-par," vowed the 25-year-old, whose best JGTO outing was finishing solo third at the Japan PGA Championship last year.

South Korea's Song Young-han, the highest-ranked non-Japanese player in the standings, carded a third consecutive 68 to remain on the cusp of contention.

He's tied for fourth at 12-under-par 204, alongside JGTO heavyweights including Ryo Ishikawa (68) and Shugo Imahira (70).

Leading third round scores:

200: Jinichiro Kozuma 67-64-69;

201: Taiki Yoshida 67-67-67;

203: Hideto Tanihara 68-68-66;

204: Tomoyasu Sugiyama 69-69-66, Ryo Ishikawa 68-68-68, Song Young-han (Kor) 68-68-68, Shugo Imahira 69-65-70, Taisei Shimizu 67-65-72;

205: Koshira Maeda 72-65-68;

206: Mikumu Horikawa 70-70-66, Hirotaro Naito 69-71-66, Takumi Kanaya 69-68-69.