Pagunsan off to great start

Nelson Beltran - The Philippine Star

TOKYO – Juvic Pagunsan sparkled in midday heat before afternoon rain interrupted play at the Kasumigaseki Country Club yesterday, firing a five-under 66 for joint fifth, just three shots off the pace at the start of the men’s golf play in the XXXII Olympiad.

With some momentum in his recent victory in the Mizuno Open in the Japan Tour, Pagunsan banged away six birdies against a lone bogey as he was with several hackers finding the day’s condition of the par-71 course to their liking.

Overnight thunderstorm softened the 7,447-yard course, allowing players to go for the pins.

Pagunsan had just holed his sixth birdie on No. 16 when rain stopped the play of the last two flights for over an hour.

Austria’s Sepp Strata, a PGA Tour campaigner who’s just licked COVID-19, carded a flawless eight-under 63 for the first-round lead with Thai ace Jazz Janewattananond having his own bogey-free round of 64 for solo second.

With playing condition made better by the overnight rain, Kasumigaseki drew a severe beating, with just 13 from the big field submitting above-par rounds.

Germany’s Thomas Bel Pieters and Mexican Carlos Ortiz were tied at third at six-under then came the Filipino bet joined by Denmark’s Joachim Den Hansen and Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas at fifth.

In the second to the last flight with Zimbabwe’s Scott Vincent and Paraguay’s Fabricio Zanotti, Pagunsan went one-under with a birdie right on the first hole but then yielded a shot on the par-3 No. 4.

He ended the front nine at 34 with birdies on holes No. 6 and 8, and got going collecting three more birdies in the back nine for that solid 66, beating the likes of major winner Collin Morikawa and Top 10 players Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas.

Closing out with a bogey, Schauffele settled for a 68 for joint 12th with a big group including American Patrick Reed, Korean Kim Si Woo and Swede Henrik Norlander.

Morikawa, the 2020 PGA champion and 2021 Open winner, and Rory McIlroy, another great gun in the field, were with another big group a shot back at 69.

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