Kazuki Higa shows Asia why he’s a force on the Japan Tour

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Kazuki Higa was pleased as punch after overturning a five-shot deficit to secure him additional playing privileges on Korean Tour and Asian Tour. Photo: JGTO

Kazuki Higa became the first player to win three JGTO titles this season after he shrugged off stiff competition from international rivals to claim a two-shot victory at the Shinhan Donghae Open on Sunday.

Tirawat Kaewsiribandit of Thailand failed to convert his three-shot overnight advantage into a win as he endured a roller-coaster day which saw him fire an albatross but also dropped six shots at the Koma Country Club.

Related: Tirawat ready to step out of shadows as glory beckons in Japan

Tirawat’s collapse paved way for the 27-year-old Higa, who pulled off a birdie-birdie finish, to clinch the fifth title of his JGTO career with a six-under-par 65 after mixing seven birdies with a lone bogey for a winning total of 20-under-par 264.

Tirawat returned with a 72 to settle for joint second alongside South Korea’s Mingyu Cho (66), and Yonggu Shin (68) on 266.

It was better late than never for South African Jbe Kruger, the 2019 champion, as he fired a flawless 63 to finish in a four-way tie for fifth following a scintillating late charge where he eagled twice and birdied three times in the last seven holes.

Asia’s US PGA Tour star Si Woo Kim’s late eagle was not enough to help his quest for a maiden title outside the US as he could only muster a 70 to join Kruger, fellow South Korean Taehoon Kim (66) and Riki Kawamoto (65) in fifth on 267.

Higa was pleased as punch after overturning a five-shot deficit to secure him additional playing privileges on Korean Tour and Asian Tour.

 

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“I am happy to win the first tri-co-sanctioned event and also win the tour cards for three tours,” said Higa.

“When I made a long birdie putt on the 18th, I knew I would finish first and need at least two strokes to win the tournament, so I was glad to make that putt.

“Coming back from five strokes behind would be difficult, but I had a good start and made birdies in the stretch, then I told myself that I should get going. Not giving up is the most important.

“When I looked at the leaderboard, I found out that I was in contention, it fires me up.”

Higa also expressed his pride to have won the bragging rights for JGTO this year.

 

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“As a representative of the Japan Tour, this victory made me feel great because the level of competition is high as it involves the best players from other tours.”

Tirawat admitted that he was let down by his eagerness to win, resulting in him crumbling under pressure.

 

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The Thai, who won an Asian Tour event in 2018, had the chance to force Higa into a playoff battle in the final hole, but sent his tee shot wide of the green to record a bogey there.

“I was struggling with slope and sidehill lies throughout the day, I didn’t put myself in a position to make birdie,” lamented Tirawat, who managed only two birdies all day on four and 17.

Kruger, with his wife Denise on his bag, was pleased to have secured a creditable top-five finish on his first Shinhan Donghae Open appearance since his victory in 2019.

 

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“Finally, I made some putts, I made a lot of putts on the first day, but the day two day three, I didn’t make a single putt,” he said.

“I wished I could hit this form all week long, but it’s nevertheless a nice homecoming.”

On teaming up with his wife on the course, Kruger said: “It’s been rough as I’m not the easiest guy to caddy for. She’s doing a good job and being fantastic on the bag, you know some camaraderie and laughter, you can’t explain.

“She’s been caddying for me for almost four years now. It makes it fun for us to go through everything together, it’s not something every husband and wife get to experience.”