DP World Tour debuts in Japan
Will the locals have the edge?
First chance in a month for many
DP World Tour members at the higher echelons of the game have been in action in the States, in the WGC Match Play and the US Masters, but for most DP World Tour players the ISPS Handa Championship is the first opportunity in a month for tournament action and the field is reasonably strong as a result.
This is the second edition of the ISPA Handa Championship but it's the first time it's featured on the DP World Tour.
The DP World Tour and the Japan Golf Tour Organisation were supposed to co-sanction at last year's inaugural edition, won by Yuto Katsuragawa, but in February 2022 it was announced that the event would proceed as a sole-sanctioned Japan Golf Tour event due to travel restrictions caused by the pandemic.
The DP World Tour created the one-off ISPS Handa Championship in Spain event as a replacement and Pablo Larrazabal, who'd won another one-off event, the MyGolfLife Open, the month before, won with a 15-under-par total.
The ISPS Handa Championship has a US$2 million prize fund and it's the first event in a three-year agreement.
It's the first regular tournament in history to be co-sanctioned by the DP World Tour and the JGTO.
The only previous event on Japanese soil to feature on the DP World Tour schedule was the Olympic Men's Golf Competition at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama back in 2021.
PGM Ishioka GC, Omitama, Ibaraki, Japan.
Par 70 -7,039 yards
Designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 1994, PGM Ishioka GC is a tree-lined track with water in-play on at least six holes.
The tweet below gives us a brief look at the venue but the hole-by hole guide on the tournament's website here is very good.
Although a tree-lined track, the fairways look extremely generous.
Previous Events at Ishioka
In addition to this event 12 months ago, Ishioka was the venue for the now defunct Acom International on the Japan Golf Tour between 1999 and 2006, the first two of three editions of the also defunct Honma TourWorld Cup in 2015 and 2016, and for the Heiwa PGM Championship in October last year.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 04:00 on Thursday.
What Will it Take to Win the ISPS Handa Championship?
It's far from unusual to encounter a Jack Nicklaus designed track on the DP World Tour. Only last month there were back-to-back events in South Africa on Nicklaus tracks - the SDC Championship at St Francis Links and the Jonsson Workwear Open at Steyn City - and as per usual, the scoring was low.
Matthew Baldwin won the SDC in 18-under-par and Nick Bachem got to 23-under-par in the JWO.
St Francis is a links layout, Steyn City is a parkland course and Ishioka is a tree-lined track but all three tracks have produced low scores.
The eight winners of the Acom International reached between -13 and -19 and the two winners of the Honma TourWorld Cup finished the week on -16 and -14, but when 28/1 chance, Katsuragawa, won this event 12 months ago, he beat Rikuya Hoshino by a stroke, having reached 24-under, and Hoshino returned to the track six months later to win the Heiwa PGM Championship by five strokes in 22-under-par at 20/1.
I haven't managed to find any stats for the previous events staged here but like the majority of Nicklaus designs encountered on the DP World Tour, the venue looks far from complicated, with bags of room off the tee.
It's going to be a low scoring event around a generous layout so in all likelihood, it's going to be all about holing plenty of putts.
DP World Tour regulars to prove too strong
Rikuya Hoshino boasts a second-place finish and a win here last year and Yuta Ikeda has course form figures reading 8-1-43-15.
A number of the Japanese players have course form and that will prove to be advantageous to a degree, but the Japan Tour isn't anywhere near as strong as the DP World Tour and I expect the Europeans to prove too strong for the local contingent.
Looking at the previous results here, two editions of the Acom International (2002 and 2004) were played over 54-holes - presumably because of poor weather.
Toru Taniguchi won wire-to-wire over three rounds in 2002 and after sitting tied for 40th and six adrift after round one in 2004, after a two-over-par 72, Toru Suzuki shot 65-63 to win by three and although that edition was played over just three rounds, that's still the furthest any course winner has trailed by after the first round.
Kazuhiko Hosokawa had also trailed by six after round one in 2001, but he was inside the top-20 and every other course winner has been within five strokes of the lead after round one.
As many as four of the last seven course winners were in front after the opening round and sixth place and four back is the furthest any course winner has trailed by at halfway so concentrating on the leaders throughout may pay dividends.
Rasmus Hojgaard heads what is a very open market, and he has some form at Jack Nicklaus tracks.
The Dane finished third in the English Championship at Hanbury Manor in 2020 and third in the Cazoo Classic at the London Club in 2021 but we haven't seen him in action for two months.
Without a win in 18 months, Rasmus was the warm favourite to bag his fourth DP World Tour title at the Ras al Khaimah Championship last time out but having trailed by just a stroke with a round to go, he shot 73 on Sunday to finish sixth and we haven't seen him since.
The world number 72, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, has been ticking along nicely in the states with an 11th in the American Express and 13th in the Players Championship the highlights and he certainly caught the eye on Sunday when he signed of the RBC Heritage with a bogey-free seven-under-par 64 to climb into the top-20.
That was the best round of the day and if he can carry that form over, he's the one they all need to beat.
Robert MacIntyre has been fairly quiet since he beat yesterday's RBC winner, Matt Fitzpatrick, in a playoff at the Italian Open back in September and he was as disappointing in his last outing on Sunday as Rasmus was in Ras al Khaimah.
The Scot trailed the eventual winner, Jorge Campillo, by just a stroke with a round to go at the Kenya Open but having traded at a low of 3.02/1, he never looked like winning after a bogey at the third in round four and we haven't seen him since.
After back-to-back thirds at the start of the year, at the Dubai Desert Classic and the Saudi International, Lucas Herbert has been largely disappointing on the PGA Tour subsequently, but he does have a win around a Jack Nicklaus layout to his name. The 27-year-old Aussie won the Irish Open at Mount Juliet a couple of years ago.
I'm away for a few days so there'll be no Find Me a 100 Winner piece from me this week (instead, Matt Cooper takes over the long odds duties) but I do quite like one outsider - Calum Hill.
The 28-year-old Scot looked to be going places when he got off the mark on the DP World Tour at the 2021 Cazoo Classic, around the Nicklaus designed London Club but his career derailed after that after an insect bite caused all sorts of issues.
He's shown bits and pieces of form since and he opened and closed the Jonsson Workwear Open with a pair of 66s last time out. I thought he was fractionally over-priced at 130.0129/1.
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