Taiga Semikawa. Credit Getty Images

Former World Amateur No. 1 Taiga Semikawa, named after Tiger Woods and touted as one of Japan’s next great hope in golf, put himself in the title hunt at the Sony Open in Hawaii following a stellar 4-under 66 in the third round on Saturday for tied fourth place, just three back of co-leaders Keegan Bradley and Grayson Murray.

The Japan Golf Tour member, who turned 23 on Thursday, has emerged as a rising star in recent times in his native country and could well deliver Asia’s third straight winner in the US$8.3 million PGA TOUR showpiece at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu after finishing in style with four birdies over his closing five holes.

Overnight co-leader Byeong Hun An of Korea also ended the day in tied fourth on 11-under following a 68 as Bradley, a seven-time PGA TOUR winner, and Murray, seeking a second career win, grabbed the 54-hole lead on 14-under following a 63 and 64 respectively.

The ultra-talented Semikawa has made a name for himself by winning 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 professional, he won twice last season to be under the spotlight, and even more so now with 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 pushed me to improve my own game and is something I felt this week,” said Semikawa, who is ranked 111th in the world.

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. “It could have been the worse place, fourth place. Coming into this week if you told me before I started, I would definitely take it,” said An. “Three back, you know, just got to tie things up tomorrow. Hopefully, I don’t make any silly mistakes.

“It was disappointing where I finished I think. It wasn’t my best day. Hit some poor shots. Hit good shots, ended up in poor spots. It’s just really bitter to finish with a bogey because I feel like I had a decent second shot. Just ended up being a really tough chip and didn’t hit a good chip, and didn’t hit a good putt and ended up with bogey. That kind of hurts.”

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. “I’m trying to just worry about myself. If I go out and shoot a good round tomorrow it’s going to be tough to beat. There is a lot of great players and a lot of players within a handful of shots of the lead, so be difficult as usual,’ said Bradley, who won twice in the 2022-23 Season including the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP in Japan.


Third-Round Notes – Saturday, January 13, 2024


Weather: Partly cloudy. High of 78. Wind NNW 8-14 mph, with gusts to 20 mph.

Third-Round Leaderboard

Pos.        Player                    R1           R2           R3           Total

T1            Keegan Bradley    67            66            63            196 (-14)

T1            Grayson Murray   69            63            64            196 (-14)

3              Sam Stevens         67            67            63            197 (-13)

Leading Asian/Aussie Scores

T4            Taiga Semikawa   68            65            66            199 (-11)

T4            Byeong Hun An    67            64            68            199 (-11)

T13         S.H. Kim                 71            64            66            201 (-9)

T13         Carl Yuan               66            65            70            201 (-9)

T22         Cam Davis             62            70            70            202 (-8)

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