Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa wants the good times to roll again after he led an impressive home charge at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP where three local players finished in the top 10 for the first time in the tournament’s history.
The 18-time Japan Golf Tour winner finished an impressive tied fourth at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club following a closing 3-under 67 to register his first top 10 finish on the PGA TOUR since 2016.
Compatriots Kensei Hirata and Ryo Hisatsune closed with matching 66s to finish joint sixth as American two-time major winner Collin Morikawa claimed his sixth PGA TOUR title by romping to an impressive six-shot victory after a bogey-free 63 in the final round.
Before the emergence of Hideki Matsuyama, who is an eight-time PGA TOUR champion and winner of the 2021 ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP, Ishikawa, 32, was touted as the next big star from Japan where he played for several seasons in the U.S. before injuries cut short his stint.
With a top 10 finish, Ishikawa earned an exemption into the next FedExCup Fall event, the World Wide Technology Championship in Mexico in two weeks’ time, and he did not hesitate to accept the opportunity at another crack against the stars from the PGA TOUR.
“I’m really happy to finish in the top 10. It’s been great to play in a PGA TOUR event here in Japan. The atmosphere was amazing. I felt really good playing in front of the Japanese fans,” said Ishikawa, who now has 12 career top 10s in 157 PGA TOUR starts.
“I’m always hoping to get back on the PGA TOUR. It’s been about five years since I’ve been back, but I’ve always been trying to rebuild myself so that I can go back. I just really feel like it’s never too late to achieve that, so I’m always working hard for it.”
He was also delighted to see Hisatsune, 21, and Hirata, 22, enjoying top finishes against the stars who teed up in the fifth edition of the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP, which featured 14 local players this week.
“I’ve been playing back on the Japan Tour for about the past five years, and recently I’ve really noticed the momentum the players who are in their early 20s have had, which is great. Our league is very competitive at the moment, especially amongst the youngsters. So instead of feeling like it’s more like an achievement or something, I feel like it’s more a reality,” Ishikawa.
After making a bogey on his 72nd hole last year to miss out on a top-10 result, the talented Hisatsune was beaming with pride with his second top 10 on the PGA TOUR. The youngster, who won the Cazoo Open de France last month, is also on track to earn his PGA TOUR card through the DP World Tour Top 10.
“After my win and this good finish, I do have a lot more confidence,” said Hisatsune of the prospects of joining Matsuyama in the U.S. next season. “However, there are still a couple more events to go (on the DP World Tour) , so I’m just going to take those one event at a time.
“Last year I messed up my last hole here which I didn’t have a good feeling about that, but because I’ve been able to play in this tournament for three years in a row and also the fact that I finished with a birdie this time, I think it will help me in the long run, so I’m really happy about that.”
Unlike Ishikawa, Hisatsune is uncertain of taking up the exemption to Mexico due to his priority to ensure he retains his DP World Tour Top 10 status where he is currently in seventh place for players not otherwise exempt. “I really want to go (to Mexico). However, with my schedule, things are looking pretty tight, so I’m going to take a little time to think about it before I decide,” he said.
Satoshi Kodaira (T12) and Yuki Inamori (T16) were the next highest placed Japanese players after closing with a 72 and 71 respectively while Hideki Matsuyama settled for joint 51st position after signing off with a 72.