Taiga Semikawa’s Panasonic Open win has him in elite league

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Taiga Semikawa
Taiga Semikawa followed in the footsteps of Keita Nakajima in becoming the second successive amateur winner at the Panasonic Open. Photo: JGTO

Evergreen Juvic Pagunsan showed he has plenty of gas left in the tank after finishing a commendable fifth at the Panasonic Open for his best result of the season.

The 44-year-old Filipino birdied three of his last four holes for a four-under-par 68 to finish the tournament on 17-under 271, five strokes behind Taiga Semikawa who became the only sixth amateur to win in JGTO history.

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Pagunsan has not been able to build on his JGTO breakthrough victory after winning the Gateway to The Open Mizuno Open in May last year.

His only other credible outing since then was a joint-eighth at the Golf Nippon Series JT Cup.

A tied-fifth finish has certainly handed Pagunsan a much-needed confidence boost especially after having missed eight cuts out of 14 appearances.

“It has been a memorable and good week. My putting was good, especially with the change of putter. I had a good feeling around the greens,” said Pagunsan, who mixed three birdies with two bogeys to turn in 35.

“I also hit the driver very well, I felt comfortable and really happy with my scores for all four days.

“I would also like to thank JGTO for staging a wonderful event this week. It’s great to have the spectators back.”

A good finish also helped Pagunsan climbs from 82nd to 55th on the Money Rankings, but it obviously didn’t matter much as he holds a two-year exemption status which runs until the end of 2023, as a result of last year’s triumph.

Australia’s Brad Kennedy made it two internationals in the top 10 when he closed with a 70 to tie for the seventh spot on 16-under 272.

Kennedy marked his scorecard with five birdies, one bogey and one double bogey to post his fifth top-10 result of the season,

The day surely belonged to none other than Semikawa, as he followed in the footsteps of Keita Nakajima in becoming the second successive amateur winner at the Panasonic Open.

Starting the day as one of the three joint leaders together with Katsumasa Miyamoto and Tomoharu Otsuki, the 21-year-old launched a late birdie blitz to fire a 66 to seal a one-shot victory over Aguri Iwasaki with a 22-under  total.

After trading two birdies against a lone bogey on the front nine, Semikawa picked up six shots from the next eight holes after the turn.

This includes five successive birdies from the 13th as not even a bogey dropped at the last could deny him a sensational victory.

Semikawa was particularly pleased to have made amends for his earlier disappointment at the Kansai Open.

Then, he was in contention for the bigger part of the tournament by leading the halfway stage and was third after the penultimate stage. He ended up tied-17th.

“I didn’t know how to describe my feeling right now. I’m overjoyed. I have never experienced anything like this before,” said Taiga, whose name was inspired by Tiger Woods.

“I knew I only stood a chance to win if I keep the birdies coming as everyone is capable of going really low on this course.

“Once the morale-boosting birdie came on the 10th, that’s when I felt like I could really do well.

“It was frustrating to lose the Kansai Open in April where I really had a good shot at.

“I really never imagined that I could win a JGTO championship as a student.”

Although missing out on the title, Iwasaki had every reason to smile as he landed the ¥20,000,000 jackpot for his runner-up effort with Semikawa not eligible for the prize money.