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Juvic returns to British Open with Japan win

Juvic Pagunsan proudly shows off the Mizuno Open trophy. —PHOTO COURTESY OF JAPAN TOUR WEBSITE

Juvic Pagunsan is finally a winner on the Japan Professional Golfers’ Association Tour.

The 43-year-old former Asian Tour champion pulled it off on his 164th start spanning 13 years after he closed out with a four-under-par 68 to beat Ryutaro Nagano by three strokes for the Gateway to the Open Mizuno Open Sunday at JFE Setonaikai Golf Club in Okayama Prefecture.

Forced to carry his bag due a tournament regulation that disallows the use of caddies due to the COVID-19 crisis, Pagunsan overcame a poor bogey-par-bogey start, draining six birdies the rest of the way to finally crown himself champ in the region’s most lucrative tour.

In the next 13-hole stretch of his shotoout with at least four players, Pagunsan mowed down all those who attempted to get in his way by one-putting 10 times, six of them for birdies that saw him leading by as many as five going to the last hole. He posted a 199 aggregate which Nagano’s 66 couldn’t even come close to.

The win was worth P5.2 million, but more importantly, Pagunsan earned a second trip to the revival of the British Open at Royal St. George’s in July after the world’s oldest major was canceled last year at the peak of the health crisis. The first time he played there in 2012, Pagunsan made the cut and finished 72nd at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club where Ernie Els won.

Victory came after a string of seven runner-up finishes, most of them close misses that failed to dampen Pagunsan’s resolve to finally land that elusive win.

And it came at one of the most difficult periods of the Tour when pros had to bear with very strict safety protocols, including the nonadmission of spectators and caddies.

Pagunsan did not ride a cart, which the players were allowed to use, and stuffed only 11 clubs in his bag which proved enough to survive the many challenges of the course.

Learning the game without a caddy at Binitin in Bacolod, Pagunsan was very comfortable leaving behind his 3, 4, 6 and 8 irons in place of a 19-degree utility club to make his bag lighter.

This is the second victory by a Filipino in Japan in the last three years after Angelo Que ruled the Top Cup Tokai Classic in 2018. INQ

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