The 38-year-old struggled in his career when he lost his sister and mother to cancer in 2008 and 2009 respectively but he is slowly returning to his best form as he showed at the challenging Otone Country Club, West Course where he leads by two shots.
Richard T. Lee of Canada, ranked sixth on the Asian Tour Order of Merit, Wonjoon Lee of Australia and Akio Sadakata of Japan trail in second place after shooting matching 66s at the Y150 million (approximately US$1.2 million) event sanctioned by the Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour.
Thailand’s Panuphol Pittarat and Prayad Marksaeng, who is a nine-time Asian Tour winner, Kyungtae Kim of Korea and last year’s runner-up Jason Knutzon of the United States were a further shot back in tied fifth place.
“I lost my way until 2013 because my mother (Sylvia) and sister (Natalie) died of cancer and my good friend past away. After that, I started thinking there is more to life than golf. Now I’m starting to piece things together by being a father and playing golf. In some ways, I feel that I’ve matured at the age of 38!” said Strange.
Strange, a two-time Asian Tour winner, started strongly when he birdied three in his opening four holes and chipped in for eagle on the fourth hole from 83 yards. He is enjoying a rich vein of form in Japan where he has two runner-up results and one tied fourth finish.
“It just a combination of some things coming together. I had a rough time in the last couple of years but I’m coming back to where I was again five or six years ago. You need some good results to get the confidence going again,” said the Australian, who has also won twice in Europe.
Lee, who won his first Asian Tour title in the Philippines in 2014, played conservatively from the tees after learning from his miss cut experience in last year’s event.
“My tee shots were absolutely great. I learnt from last year where I was hitting the ball too hard. I toned it down by 70% on the tee shots to find more fairways. It makes it easier on your second shot when you are on the fairway because the rough is up.
“I made a lot of putts and had six birdies which is outstanding on this golf course. I’m usually an aggressive player. Sometimes I spray my tee shots but this is a course where you can’t do that. You have to make sure that you find the fairway,” said Lee.
After waking up at 4am, Thailand’s Panuphol, who started on the back nine, holed a 20-foot birdie putt on hole two which sparked his charge up the leaderboard. He marked his card with three more birdies including two in his closing holes.
“I had a 4am wake-up call which is 2am in Thailand! It was a sleepy morning. The birdie on hole two was good. I’ll take a four there but I holed a long birdie putt. It actually lipped out and went in again! That kept me thinking that I can finish under-par,” said the 22-year-old.
Defending champion Hiroyuki Fujita struggled to a 71 while popular Japanese Ryo Ishikawa carded a 69 to trail the leader by five shots.
Scores after round 1 of the Asia Pacific Open Mitsubishi Diamond Cup being played at the par 70, 7101 Yards Otone CC course (am – denotes amateur):
64 – Scott STRANGE (AUS).
66 – Richard T. LEE (CAN), Wonjoon LEE (AUS), Akio SADAKATA (JPN).
67 – Panuphol PITTAYARAT (THA), K.T. KIM (KOR), Jason KNUTZON (USA), Prayad MARKSAENG (THA).
68 – Tatsuhiko TAKAHASHI (JPN), Yuta IKEDA (JPN), Keiichiro FUKABORI (JPN), Hyungsung KIM (KOR), Tomohiro KONDO (JPN), Kiyoshi MUROTA (JPN).
69 – Ryutaro NAGANO (JPN), Ryo ISHIKAWA (JPN), Lionel WEBER (FRA), Daisuke KATAOKA (JPN), Sam BRAZEL (AUS), Toru TANIGUCHI (JPN), Wen-chong LIANG (CHN), Hideto TANIHARA (JPN), Kazuki HIGA (am, JPN), Toshinori MUTO (JPN), Kurt BARNES (AUS).
70 – Shinji TOMIMURA (JPN), S.K. HO (KOR), Adam BLAND (AUS), Shohei HASEGAWA (am, JPN), Rashid KHAN (IND), Atomu SHIGENAGA (JPN), Mithun PERERA (SRI), Shugo IMAHIRA (JPN), Shunsuke SONODA (JPN), Yusaku MIYAZATO (JPN), Achi SATO (JPN), Paul PETERSON (USA), Scott BARR (AUS), Minkyu KIM (am, KOR), Chinnarat PHADUNGSIL (THA), Brad KENNEDY (AUS), Michio MATSUMURA (JPN), Taihei SATO (am, JPN), Kyounghoon LEE (KOR).