By Olle Nordberg, Former Asian Tour and European Tour professional
This week we are in Japan for the prestigious Asia-Pacific Open Diamond Cup, held for the first time at Sobu Country Club in Chiba prefecture an hour east of Tokyo.
The second co-sanctioned event in 2019 with the Japan Golf Tour Organisation (JGTO) following the SMBC Singapore Open, and the first of the year on Japanese soil, this event used to be played in September and has been co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour since 2014.
Last year’s event was won by Japanese star player Yuta Ikeda in comfortable fashion, as he finished six shots ahead of South Africa’s Justin Harding on a 15-under-par 269 total.
The defending champion is coming off a solid tournament in China last week where he finished tied-11th, and he has had four other top-10s on the Japan Tour since his victory at this event last September.
While Ikeda’s Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) of 119 is not as high as it was in early 2017 when he hit a career high of number 33, he is nevertheless always a force to be reckoned with when playing in Japan.
He would love to be the first player to defend this title since the legendary Masashi “Jumbo” Ozaki did so in 1996-1997.
There are a number of other players in-form and aiming to come out on top this week, and among those the ones below all have strong cases as to why they should be considered top contenders:
The reigning Japan Tour Order of Merit Champion finished second at The Crowns last week on the Japan Tour and is obviously in good form. He had a staggering 14 top-ten finishes last year and will be looking to keep this pace in 2019.
Currently ranked number 71 on the OWGR which is the highest in the field.
The winner of the Token Hommate Cup three weeks ago on the Japan Tour, Jones is referred to as the “King of Japan” by his fellow Australian players. No surprise, given his record in Japan which includes 15 victories going all the way back to 2002.
The leading player on the current Japan Tour Order of Merit, Jones also had a good 2018 season which included nine top-10 finishes and placed him seventh on the Order of Merit.
Currently ranked number 100 on the OWGR.
Last year’s Asian Tour Rookie of the Year looks to have his game in a good place at the moment, coming into this week with a fourth and tied-fourth finish in his last two events, at The 38th GS Caltex Maekyung Open and the Token Hommate Cup respectively.
Park’s impressive 2018 season saw three victories (GS Caltex Maekyung Open, KEB Hana Bank Invitational and the Shinhan Donghae Open) and 11 top-10s in total on the Asian Tour, Korean Tour and Japan Tour.
With his game trending in the right direction, another win could be right around the corner for the OWGR number 131.
Spreading his play between the Asian Tour, European Tour and Japan Tour in 2019, Kawamura has shown great form as of late with a runner-up in the Hero Indian Open, a tied-sixth result at the Trophee Hassan II and tied-15th at the Maybank Championship.
During his 2018 campaign he racked up eight top-10s on different tours and ended the season 24th on the Asian Tour Habitat for Humanity Standings, and 19th on the Japan Tour Order of Merit.
His lone victory came at the co-sanctioned 2013 Asia-Pacific Panasonic Open, and it would not be surprising to see him lift a trophy again soon.
Kawamura is sitting in 137th place on the OWGR this week.
Finishing tied-third last week at The Crowns, the current OWGR number 204 also had a good finish to the 2018 season with two straight top 10s finishing tied-second in the Nippon Series JT Cup and seventh at the Casio World Open.
Having won three tournaments previously on the Japan Tour, the Casio World Open (2015 & 2012) and the Gateway to The Open Mizuno Open (2011), Hwang will be looking to get back in the winner’s circle once again.
Prom is coming off two good tournaments in a row where he finished seventh at last week’s Maekyung Open, and the winner at the Butra Heidelberg Cement Brunei Championships on the Asian Development Tour (ADT) the previous week.
Add to that a win at the Singha Thailand Masters on the All Thailand Golf Tour and a tied-fifth place at the SMBC Singapore Open (which qualified him for The Open Championship) and you could definitely call this a successful season so far.
The OWGR number 241 last won on the Asian Tour in 2014 and his next victory on the main Tour does not seem to be far off.