Amateur Yuta Sugiura continued to assert himself against his more celebrated rivals, posting a three-under-par 68 to pull ahead by three shots at the midway point of the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament in Miyazaki on Friday.
The 22-year-old Sugiura, trailing Hideki Matsuyama by one shot after the opening day, demonstrated his prowess by notching six birdies and offsetting three dropped shots at the Phoenix Country Club, reaching a total of 10-under 132 after 36 holes.
Yuta Kinoshita and South Africa's Shaun Norris carded rounds of 68 and 70, respectively, placing them three shots behind in joint second.
Kazuki Higa delivered the joint-best performance of the day with a 66, surging back into contention for a successful title defence bid. He shares fourth place at six-under with Zimbabwe's Scott Vincent (70), JGTO Money Rankings leader Keita Nakajima (71), and Yuwa Kosaihira (70).
Matsuyama faced a challenging day, managing a 74 and slipping to a tied-eighth position.
Sugiura, the top-ranked Japanese on the World Amateur Golf Ranking at No. 21, displayed nerves of steel as he rebounded from a double bogey on his first hole with birdies on the second and third.
Although he conceded another shot with a bogey on the sixth, Sugiura responded with a birdie on the ninth before making the turn.
Sugiura added three more birdies on holes 13, 15, and 18, establishing a solid advantage with two days remaining.
"Even after making a double bogey, I was able to mentally recover and play good golf until the end, which was positive," said Sugiura.
"I believe I'm playing as I intended or as my strength allows, so it's not just luck. I am confident that I can execute my game plan effectively."
Sugiura is no stranger to the JGTO scene, with his most notable achievement being a tied third-place finish at the Japan Open last year.
As he sits atop the leaderboard, Sugiura is confident that clinching his first JGTO title is within reach.
"After showcasing this level of golf in the last two days, I see a chance for success if I can sustain this level of performance consistently. I am committed to pursuing that goal," he affirmed.
Norris was pleased to finish strong with a birdie, his third of the day, after a tense ending that saw him bogey twice on 15 and 17.
"I'm in a good position, and both my shot and putting performances are solid, so I'm looking forward to the days ahead," he said.
Unfazed by the windy conditions forecasted for Saturday, he is confident he can thrive under these challenging circumstances.
"I hope the wind keeps picking up. For some reason, I find that I can concentrate better when the conditions are challenging. So, I welcome the wind, let it blow more and more! That's the feeling," said Norris.
PGA Tour stars Wyndham Clark and Brooks Koepka returned with improved displays but still have their work cut out for them if they're to contend on the final day.
Clark, this year's US Open champion, shot a 70 to be tied for 37th at one-under, while Koepka, seeking his third victory in the tournament, responded to his opening 73 with a 69 to tie for 48th spot.
Leading second round scores:
132: Yuta Sugiura (am) 64-68;
135: Yuta Kinoshita 67-68, Shaun Norris (Rsa) 65-70;
136: Scott Vincent (Zim) 66-70, Keita Nakajima 65-71, Kazuki Higa 70-66, Yuwa Kosaihira 66-70;
137: Yusaku Hosono 68-69, Hideki Matsuyama 63-74, Yusaku Miyazato 65-72, Rikuya Hoshino 71-66.