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Home hero Yuto Katsuragawa romps to victory in Japan

Home hero Yuto Katsuragawa romps to victory in Japan

Yuto Katsuragawa continued a history-making season for players from Japan on the DP World Tour with a three-shot victory on home soil at the ISPS HANDA - CHAMPIONSHIP.

The local favourite entered the final day at Taiheiyo Club Gotemba Course three shots off the lead but was right in the mix at the turn as many of the leading players stumbled.

Sebastian Söderberg was the only one keeping pace with him but the 25-year-old started the back nine with five birdies in seven holes to leave the Swede in his wake and finish at 17 under after a course-record equalling 63.

Söderberg carded a 67 to be the nearest challenger but all the headlines belonged to Katsuragawa, who made it back-to-back Japanese wins in regular DP World Tour events for the first time after Keita Nakajima's victory at the Hero Indian Open.

Isao Aoki was the first Japanese winner in DP World Tour history at the 1983 European Open but we had to wait 33 years for another when Hideki Matsuyama lifted the trophy at the 2016 WGC-HSBC Champions.

Matsuyama would lift another World Golf Championships title the following year before his monumental Masters Tournament victory in 2021 made it four all-time Japanese wins on the DP World Tour.

That tally has now doubled in just seven months, with Ryo Hisatsune's win at last season's Cazoo Open de France being followed by Rikuya Hoshino's 2024 victory at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters and Nakajima and Katsuragawa's recent heroics.

Katsuragawa admits that he drew inspiration from the recent success of his compatriots. "Looking at them winning in Europe definitely motivated me," he said. "This tournament was held in Japan on a familiar course but I have not experienced winning abroad yet. I aim to win on a bigger stage internationally."

Katsuragawa's maiden DP World Tour win comes in just his fifth start and is his second in this event, having lifted the trophy in 2022 before it was co-sanctioned with the Japan Golf Tour Organisation.

He is now set to take up DP World Tour membership and will enter the top 25 on the Race to Dubai Rankings in Partnership with Rolex, with a long-term goal of achieving dual membership with the PGA TOUR.

"I have been practising a lot to stand on the big stage," he said. "I can now go on the DP World Tour which is really great and I'm really happy with it. I'm aiming to become a member of the PGA TOUR in the future.

"Basically, I embrace enjoying myself. Only a few pro golfers can travel abroad, so I want to travel a lot, enjoy myself, and play on many courses. I also hope to be a role model for children and juniors by becoming an international golfer."

This is an event he was focused on winning at the start of the season, and he admits nerves kicked in down the stretch. He added: "This is the tournament I wanted to win the most this year. I was very nervous on the back nine, my hands were shaking but I trusted myself and I managed to bring my golf.

"This course is beside Mount Fuji and very beautiful but it is a challenging course and I'm happy to win at a challenging course like this."

Söderberg made a three-putt at the second but hit back with a birdie at the par-five third after giving himself a good look at eagle and an approach to 12 feet on the fifth to get to 12 under.

Katsuragawa also took advantage of the third and a tap-in at the sixth would soon have him in a share of the lead as the final group faltered.

He was one behind Söderberg as the 33-year-old chipped in on the ninth but some stunning spin control at the tenth had him back in a share before Söderberg bogeyed the same hole after missing the green.

More wonderful iron play at the 12th extended the advantage to two and he then made a brilliant par save from a nasty lie on the 13th, with Söderberg birdieing the same hole from close range to trim the gap.

Katsuragawa found another gear, however, leaving himself eight feet at the 14th and holing a long putt at the next to lead by three.

Söderberg kept in touch with a birdie from close range on the 15th but Katsuragawa was relentless and a gain from off the green at the 16th was a third in a row as he eased to victory.

A runner-up finish for Söderberg moved him to the top of Asian Swing Rankings and should he stay there after next week's Volvo China Open, he will win $200,000 and gain entry to the Back Nine events, while also guaranteeing his place at the Genesis Scottish Open. Those who finish in positions one to three will also be exempt into the U.S. PGA Championship.

South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Spaniard Ivan Cantero, Japan's Ryosuke Kinoshita and German Marcel Schneider finished at 12 under, a shot clear of home duo Masahiro Kawamura and Yuta Sugiura, Northern Ireland's Tom McKibbin and Frenchman Tom Vaillant.