Gate Way To The Open Mizuno Open 2024

Imahira and Kinoshita share penultimate honours

Imahira and Kinoshita share penultimate honours

Nine-time JGTO winner Shugo Imahira birdied five of his opening seven holes en route to joining Ryosuke Kinoshita at the top of the Gateway to the Open Mizuno Open leaderboard on Saturday.

The 31-year-old added two more birdies against a lone bogey on the par-three 16th, carding a six-under-par 66 to reach 11-under overall at the JFE Setonaikai Golf Clu, while Kinoshita added a 70 to retain his overnight lead.

Chasing the leading duo on 206 was South Africa's Shaun Norris, who birdied his last three holes for a 67, provisionally securing third place and the final qualification spot for The Open Championship. Tomoyo Ikemura posted a 70 to hold fourth place, one shot further back.

Takahiro Hataji, last week's Kansai Open Golf Championship winner, positioned himself for back-to-back victories with a 69, tying him with four others, including Yuto Katsuragawa and Kazuki Higa.

Imahira, a two-time JGTO Money Rankings winner, was pleased with his performance.

"Overall, it was good. I would give myself 90 marks," said Imahira, who claimed his ninth title at the Mitsui Sumitomo Visa Taheiyo Masters last November.

Despite not having a single top-10 finish this season, Imahira believes his prospects are improving as the season progresses.

"I haven't played many tournaments yet, so I haven't gotten into the groove. I think I'll be fine once I get more tournaments under my belt," said Imahira, who has made only four JGTO appearances and has not travelled abroad.

"I'm trying out various things within myself, thinking daily about whether they will work or not. If everything comes together, I think it will lead to good results."

Kinoshita struggled on the front nine but made a late surge by sinking birdies on the 11th, 12th, 15th, and 16th holes. However, a bogey on the final hole prevented him from taking the outright lead.

"I didn't have many chances on the front nine and made a bogey on the third, so the flow wasn't really good. However, I managed to save pars on the eighth and ninth holes, which I think helped me connect to a better performance on the back nine," he explained.

"The final bogey was unfortunate, but I want to reset and move forward."

A top-three finish would suffice to earn him a spot at The Open, but Kinoshita aims to enter the final day with a two-pronged mission.

"I think the wind will blow tomorrow as well, so I want to manage it well and aim for the win. Winning would get me into The Open Championship."

A strong performance on the third day had Norris dreaming of ending his three-year title drought and securing a spot at Royal Troon in July.

Norris is optimistic that his hot putter will continue to serve him well as he seeks his long-awaited seventh win since his last victory at the 2021 Japan Open.

"I had a good meal, slept well, hit good shots, and made good putts. I hope I can continue this tomorrow," said Norris.

"I was able to hit good shots and sink putts throughout the day, although they didn't quite translate into results until the last three holes when things clicked, and I managed to secure three consecutive birdies.

"Of course, the possibility of a top-three finish and even a win is on my mind, but I believe if I maintain the same level of play I had today—hitting good shots and making solid putts—the results will follow."

Leading third round scores:

205: Shugo Imahira 65-74-66, Ryosuke Kinoshita 69-66-70;

206: Shaun Norris (Rsa) 70-69-67;

207: Tomoyo Ikemura 68-69-70;

208: Koh Gun-taek (Kor) 67-74-67, Kazuki Higa 69-70-69, Takahiro Hataji 71-68-69, Yuto Katsuragawa 69-69-70, Mikumu Horikawa 64-71-73;

209: Takumi Kanaya 70-73-66;

210: Ryoma Iwai 67-72-71, Taiga Nagano 68-71-71.