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Paul and Ko among round one leaders in Japan

Paul and Ko among round one leaders in Japan

Yannik Paul and Jeong weon Ko joined a trio of local favourites at the summit after a fog-affected round one of the ISPS HANDA - CHAMPIONSHIP in Japan concluded on Friday.

Nearly three hours was lost to fog on Thursday morning at Taiheiyo Club Gotemba Course but when play got under way, German Paul posted a 65 to sit at five under alongside Japan's Tomoyo Ikemura, Taisei Shimizu and Taiki Yoshida.

Ko of France then birdied the last to make it a five-way tie for the lead when he returned to complete his round on Friday morning.

Home favourites Yuki Inamori, Masahiro Kawamura, Ryosuke Kinoshita, Taigo Nagano and Keita Nakajima were then at four under alongside China's Li Haotong, South African Casey Jarvis, Swede Sebastian Söderberg, Scot Connor Syme, Alejandro del Rey of Spain and English pair Sam Bairstow and Matthew Jordan.

The Asian Swing returns to the DP World Tour this week at an event co-sanctioned by the Japan Golf Tour Organisation as we tee it up in the Land of the Rising Sun for the second consecutive season.

Paul - a winner at the 2022 Mallorca Golf Open - already has three top tens in 2024 and his 65 was his lowest round since his first of the season at the Dubai Invitational.

Starting on the tenth, he birdied the 11th, 14th, 15th and 18th to turn in 31 and a 45-footer on the second handed him the solo lead.

Another birdie on the next got him to six under and while he made two bogeys to a single birdie on the way in, he was pleased with his day's work.

"I putted really nicely," he said. "My putting coach Mike came to Arizona two weeks ago and we changed quite a few things because that was the first time I saw him off site so it was a better time to change some stuff and it worked really nicely.

"I was hitting it OK, nothing special, and I capitalised on a lot of my chances."

Ikemura has two wins on this week's co-sanctioning tour and he made four birdies in five holes from the second, adding another three on the back nine but also making two bogeys.

"I just tried not to make a bogey but I made a few bogeys in the morning," he said. "In that situation, I managed to make birdies, which made my game good overall.

"My ball-striking was great and my putting distance control was pretty good."

Shimizu was bogey-free in his round, picking up shots on the third, eighth, 11th, 12th and 16th.

"Today, my short-game and putting went well," he said. "I didn’t overthink overall and just kept playing my game.

"So far this season, my ball-striking has been good, so I need to keep what I have been doing. By doing so, I will be able to be in contention."

Yoshida made four birdies in a row from the third and joined the lead with another at the 14th before recovering from a bogey on the 17th with a birdie on the last.

"I’m happy to play under par today," he said. "There are still three more days so I don’t want to think about the win. I just want to finish well."

Starting from the 10th, Ko recorded four birdies in his bogey-free back nine to join the leaders when he returned to complete his round on Friday, following a top five finish on his last start at the Hero Indian Open.

Nakajima, Kinoshita, Inamori, Syme and Jordan were all bogey-free in their 66s, while Söderberg dropped a single shot and Jarvis had two blemishes.

Li made an eagle at the par-four tenth to go with four birdies and two bogeys, while Bairstow and Kawamura recorded eagles of their own at the 18th.

Ren Yonezawa made the tenth hole-in-one of the season as he holed a six iron from 188 yards on the par-three 13th.

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