Golf: Japan's Taiga Semikawa in title race; Bhatia 13th at Sony Open

Taiga Semikawa catapulted himself into the title race at the USD 8 million Sony Open with a 4-under 66 in the third round.

Maui (Hawaii), Jan 14 (IANS) Japan’s latest prodigy Taiga Semikawa, who interestingly was named after Tiger Woods, catapulted himself into the title race at the USD 8 million Sony Open with a 4-under 66 in the third round.

The former World Amateur No.1 Semikawa is touted as Japan’s next great hope in golf, and he is now 11-under. He shot 68-65 in the first two rounds.

Semikawa is tied for fourth place three places behind the leaders. Keegan Bradley (63), a seven-time PGA tour winner, and Grayson Murray (64), seeking a second career win, grabbed the 54-hole lead on 14-under.

Indian-American Akshay Bhatia with five birdies and three bogeys dropped to T-13.

The last two Sony Open editions have been won by Asians – Hideki Matsuyama in 2022 and by Si Woo Kim in 2023.

Overnight co-leader Byeong Hun An of Korea also ended the day in tied fourth on 11-under following a 68. The other overnight co-leader Carl Yuan of China dropped to T-13 after a round of 70.

In 2022 Semikawa won two Japan Golf Tour titles while still an amateur, including the 2022 Japan Open where he became the first amateur to win the prestigious event in 95 years. After turning pro he won twice last season and is now under spotlight with stories about him being named after the legendary Tiger Woods.

“I was named after Tiger Woods and I kind of took on the way he plays. I grew up watching his aggressive style, and I think that kind of fits my personality and is something I try and replicate in my own game,” said Semikawa.

This week is only his sixth PGA Tour start and his run thus far in Waialae has certainly been an improvement from last year’s T67 finish in the Sony Open, which has typically invited Japan golfers to feature in the tournament.

“Compared to last year, to be able to play this well, I really feel that my game has improved quite a lot,” said Semikawa, who is playing on a sponsor’s exemption and aiming to emulate countryman Hideki Matsuyama (2022) and Si Woo Kim (2023) who won the Sony Open in the past two years.

He attributed his growth to a strong rivalry between him, Keita Nakajima and Takumi Kanaya, who are amongst a new generation of young Japanese stars emerging on the Japan Golf Tour. “I still have work to do to get to Takumi and Keita’s level, but having many close battles against them really pushed me to improve my own game and is something I definitely felt this week,” he said.

Despite a bogey on the last hole, the 32-year-old An is keeping his eye firmly on a breakthrough first PGA Tour win. He endured a roller-coaster day, trading six birdies against four bogeys.

Korea’s S.H. Kim continued his resurgence, carding a 66 to climb to T13 at 9-under and was joined by China’s Carl Yuan battled to a 70 as he dropped out of the overnight lead to five off the lead.

Bradley fired the day’s joint low round of 63 with eight birdies against a lone dropped shot as he seeks his first win of the 2024 season.

–IANS

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