Nakajima, Kanaya rivalry regales on opening day of JGTO season finale

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Keita Nakajima - TheGolfingHub
Keita Nakajima expressed delight at the strong start he and Takumi Kanaya had, anticipating an exciting three-day battle with his former national team senior. Photo: JGTO

The race for the JGTO No. 1 may have been decided, but the intense rivalry between Keita Nakajima and Takumi Kanaya continued to take center stage at the season-ending Golf Nippon Series JT Cup.

Nakajima, assured of the Prize Money King title, lived up to his status by firing a faultless seven-under-par 63, leading the opening day by one shot ahead of Kanaya, whom he played alongside, at the Tokyo Yomiuri Country Club on Thursday.

Related: Brad Kennedy aims to end JGTO season on a high

Last week, Nakajima mentioned how his rivalry with Kanaya brings out the best in him, and that proved true when he mixed an eagle and five birdies to claim the early bragging rights over his counterpart.

Not to be outdone, Kanaya also produced a bogey-free round containing six birdies, three of which came in the last five holes of the day, keeping up with Nakajima.

Taiki Yoshida, Hiroshi Iwata, and Taichi Nabetani, the winner of last week’s Casio World Open, are tied for third following matching 65s.

The best-placed international competitor was Song Young-han of South Korea, finishing lone sixth with a four-birdie bogey-free effort.

Nakajima expressed delight at the strong start he and Kanaya had, anticipating an exciting three-day battle with his former national team senior.

“The most enjoyable part is being able to compete together. Since we’ll be playing together again tomorrow, I want us to strive for victory together over the next three days,” said Nakajima.

“Considering many other players are also performing well, I’ll do my best to continuously improve and remain in the final group.”

Kanaya echoed Nakajima’s sentiments, expressing enjoyment in their duel and emphasising how it motivated his own performance.

“I genuinely believe I played well, and it was fantastic to play without any bogeys. I aim to stick to my game plan for the remaining three days,” said Kanaya.

“Observing Nakajima’s flawless performance inspired me to aim for lower scores as well. Tomorrow, being in the same group with him again, I hope we can both continue pushing each other.”

In his ninth appearance in the tournament, Australia’s Brad Kennedy got off to a morale-boosting start by signing for a 68, placing him in a seven-way tie for ninth place. This group also includes double defending champion Hideto Tanihara and Ryo Ishikawa, the winner in 2015 and 2019.

Kennedy, who finished as the runner-up in 2019, made three birdies to offset a lone bogey in the first seven holes and went on to par the remaining 11 holes.

“From (holes) eight through to 18, I just couldn’t get out of second gear. I was missing fairways by meter and then I was having to sort of play safe, hit it to the fat of the green and then two-putt and try and look at the next one, and then I’ll miss it again by meter,” said Kennedy.

“I kept getting stuck through the ball, so I wasn’t quite maximizing my distance and came up short a couple of times. But I guess anytime you can shoot under par, you got to look back and think. It wasn’t too bad if I got off to a basic start and came home strong to shoot two-under. It’s sort of the same thing.

“So I’ve just got to look at the holes and need to take advantage of and try and work on those tomorrow.”

Leading first round scores:
63: Keita Nakajima;
64: Takumi Kanaya;
65: Taiki Yoshida, Hiroshi Iwata, Taichi Nabetani;
66: Song Young-han (Kor);
67: Ren Yonezawa, Taiga Semikawa;
68: Koh Gun-taek (Kor), Brad Kennedy (Aus), Hideto Tanihara, Tomoharu Otsuki, Ryo Ishikawa, Shugo Imahira, Kensei Hirata.