Mitsui Sumitomo VISA Taiheiyo Masters 2023

Imahira banks on course familiarity to take outright lead

Imahira banks on course familiarity to take outright lead

Shugo Imahira, aiming for his second win of the season, established a two-shot lead after the third round of the Mitsui Sumitomo Visa Taiheiyo Masters on Saturday.

The 31-year-old Imahira, who began the penultimate stage just one shot behind Taiki Yoshida, delivered a five-under-par 65 at the Taiheiyo Club's Gotemba Course. He traded six birdies with a lone bogey, concluding with a 12-under total of 198.

Yoshida prevented Imahira from heading into the final round with a four-shot advantage by superbly eagling the par-five 18th to card a 68.

Tomoyasu Sugiyama is an additional three shots back after posting the day's best 64, while South Korea's Song Young-han and Yusaku Miyazato recorded matching 68s to remain on the fringe of contention.

Imahira, who secured his only other victory this year at the season-opening Token Homemate Cup in April, stressed that despite establishing a two-shot lead, he cannot afford to get too comfortable just yet.

"While it's great to be in contention for a win in a significant tournament, a two-shot difference can vanish in a single hole, so it's far from being enough," stressed Imahira, a two-time JGTO Prize Money King boasting eight Tour titles.

With a history of regular play during his formative years, Imahira acknowledged that his familiarity with the Gotemba Course played a pivotal role in his strong performance this week.

"I used to be a member here. Since my amateur days, I've been playing rounds on this course, so that familiarity has definitely been an advantage," shared Imahira.

When questioned about whether his association with his former club fueled his desire to win this week, he affirmed, "Yes, it did. I had that kind of sentiment."

Yoshida capitalised on the 18th yet again, securing his second consecutive eagle and maintaining pressure on Imahira. Earlier in the morning, he concluded his remaining four holes in the delayed second round (due to heavy fog), shooting a 63.

This performance allowed him to finish as the sole leader, one stroke ahead of both Imahira and Takahiro Hataji.

Yoshida was able to pick up where he left off as he birdied the third, ninth, and 12th to keep up with Imahira.

However, he lost ground after dropping a bogey on the 13th and conceded a further two strokes following a double bogey on the 16th.

Just when it appeared as if Imahira was going to carry a healthy four-shot lead into the deciding day, Yoshida proved his mettle when he landed his second shot just two meters from the hole, setting up a simple tap-in for an eagle.

Yoshida hopes to keep his emotions in check as he vies for a maiden JGTO breakthrough.

"When it (the eagle putt) went in, I felt relieved," said Yoshida.

"My shots weren't that great, but there were lucky and unlucky moments. The lucky ones prevailed, and I finished under par.

"It will be my second time in the final group since the ANA Open. At that time, I was all over the place, I couldn't play my game at all because I expected too much from myself.

"I'm not expecting much this week. How should I put it, I'll do it moderately. If the putts go in, I think I can catch up and surpass Imahira-san."


Leading third round scores:

198: Shugo Imahira 67-66-65;

200: Taiki Yoshida 69-63-68;

203: Tomoyasu Sugiyama 68-71-64;

204: Song Young-han (Kor) 68-68-68, Yusaku Miyazato 67-69-68;

205: Taiga Sugihara 69-71-65, Yusaku Hosono 68-69-68, Kodai Ichihara 68-69-68, Shingo Katayama 70-65-70, Justin De Los Santos 67-69-69;

206: Hideto Tanihara 68-69-69, Takumi Kanaya 68-69-69.