Former winner Shaun Norris overcame a shaky start to shoot a three-under-par 68 and share the eighth spot in the first round of the BMW Japan Golf Tour Championship Mori Building Cup – the JGTO’s flagship event, on Thursday.
The 41-year-old South African went through an eventful opening three holes at the Shishido Hills Country Club, the course where conquered back in 2017, as he sandwiched a birdie in between two bogeys.
However, Norris swiftly steadied the ship by scoring a pair of birdies on the fifth and sixth holes before picking up two more shots on numbers 14 and 16 to trail leaders Ren Yonezawa and Takumi Kanaya by four shots.
Yonezawa traded eight birdies against a lone bogey for a sublime 64, which was matched by Kanaya with an equally impressive bogey-free round featuring seven birdies.
Also sitting in a seven-way tie for eighth were fellow international competitors Australia’s Anthony Quayle and Song Young-han of South Korea, with Filipino Justin De Los Santos and Australian Brendan Jones a further two shots back in tied-22nd.
View this post on Instagram
Norris, a six-time JGTO winner, was pleased to have gotten off to his best start of the season and will be looking to keep the momentum going.
He has struggled to impress in his first three appearances thus far where a tied-28th at last week’s Gateway to The Open Mizuno Open was the best outing he could salvage.
“It’s good to be back. I really enjoy this golf course. I’ve got really good memories out here, so just trying to get myself back into enjoying the game again,” said Norris.
Once a regular starter on JGTO, Norris has been making fewer trips to Japan over the last 18 months as he opted to stay close to his family after welcoming his second child last year.
But the fans will certainly be seeing him more in the latter season as he confirmed that he has signed up for the Hana Bank Invitational, Japan Players Championship and Shigeo Nagashima Invitational Sega Sammy Cup next month.
“I’ve been bouncing around a little baby girl back home, so it’s quite hard now. She’s just over a year old now, so it’s a lot harder,” said Norris.
“Travelling with my son, I can still get away with it, but with a little baby girl, I feel like it’s a lot harder. I want to be home more often. It’s quite tough, but I’m actually planning on trying to be out here a little bit more.
“I always love Japan, and my family loves it too. So the kids are now getting to that age where granny and grandpa can look after them for a couple of weeks, so my wife can come with me. So that’s a plan, let’s see how it goes.”
View this post on Instagram
Quayle is another man on a mission at Shishido Hills as he seeks to turn things around at the venue he impressed with a solo fourth last year.
The 28-year-old could only muster a tied-26th at the Token Homemate Cup and missed the cut in the next starts at The Crowns and last week’s Mizuno Open.
Quayle had no complaints about how he started the week even after being denied of a flawless round with a sole dropped shot on the par-five 17th.
“I decided to try hit two iron and try play safe (on number 17). Hit a bit of a stinger, and I just come over the top of it and caught the trees just on the left-hand side, and I had to play down the 17th fairway,” he said.
“It was just a very long hole, but probably in the end, quite happy to make bogey and get out of there. It could have been a lot worse.
“I think it’s a golf course that suits me pretty well. I think when the wind is up a little bit like this, you need to be able to shape it both ways.
“It favours good ball strikers and a little bit of feel around the green. So it’s a golf course. I really like them. One that probably plays to my game a bit.”