No Meltdown from Nagano This Year in Fukushima

The Japan Tour returns to action this week with the second hosting of the Dunlop Srixon Fukushima Open. Last year's event at the Grandee Nasushirakawa GC was the first year the event had been held and Satoshi Kodaira had a two shot victory ahead of a gaggle of players. Japan is 8 hours ahead and so it will start at 10.30pm Wednesday evening UK time, on the 22nd July.

The Course

The Grandee Nasushirakawa GC is a Robert Trent Jones Senior designed course near the town of Shirakawa, in the Fukushima Prefecture, just a couple of hours from the nuclear plant which was damaged in the tsunami in 2011, and not too far from where some mutated daisies have been found.
There are three sets of 9 at the course and I'm not sure which sets are used for the course, but possibly the South & West sets, and last year it played as 6,961 yards and a par 72. It is a fairly tight tree lined parkland course, with a few lakes thrown in as well. At 549 yards and a par 5 the last hole could prove decisive.
The past winner was:
Year Player Score Players Under Par Winning Margin
Obviously difficult to pick up trends from one year but it played relatively easy with the field averaging a quarter of a hot under par, and most of those making the cut finished under par.

The Contenders

Not much course form to go on with 68 of the field having played last year, including all 10 of the top 10. However the big name here this week is Hideki Matsuyama who did not play here last year. The Japanese number 1 has been playing in the US and so makes his tour debut this year having not played since the Dunlop Phoenix Open in November which he won. On the PGA Tour he's been remarkably consistent with 6 top 10's from his 14 events, and 12 of the 14 have had finishes inside the top 25, with 18th in his last two events he's played the US & British Opens. Before that he was 5th at The Memorial, the event he won last year, 20th at the Wells Fargo and 17th at The Players Championship, plus had a 5th at The Masters.
He's one of two inside the top 100 in the World in the field and at 15th is some way ahead of the other player who is Hiroshi Iwata at 92nd. He did reach 81st with his win at the Sega Sammy Cup three weeks ago but missed cuts at the Musee Platinum Open and last week at St Andrews for The Open has seen him drop down. Before his win he was 30th at the ISPS Handa Global Cup & 6th at the Thailand Open, his only other top ten this year, although with the win he does sit 2nd on the money list. He did play last year and a 64 in round two put him in the tie for the lead at the halfway stage, before a 73 dropped him down, bouncing back with a 67.
Leading the money list is Japan is K.T. Kim thanks to his two wins at the Thailand Open, which was dual ranking with the OneAsia Tour, and two weeks ago at the Musee Platinum Open. In between the two wins he was 20th at the ISPS Handa Global Cup and 6th at the Sega Sammy Cup. Form which has seen him rise from a low of 352nd in the world to 161st which is 9th best in the field. He didn't play here last year.
Obviously as the winner last year Satoshi Kodaira has the best record here. He opened slowly with a 72 but improved by 4 in each of the next two rounds with a 68 & 64, and when the leaders faltered his final round 68 was enough to take the title. He's played seven of the ten events held so far this year and been no worse than 36th at the ISPS Handa Global Cup, which followed his best result of 5th at the Japan Golf Tour Championship at Shishido Hills. He followed the ISPS Handa Global Cup with 13th at the Sega Sammy Cup and 29th at the Musee Platinum Cup.
The two leaders going into the final round last year were Ryutaro Nagano & Thanyakon Khrongpha who started superbly with rounds of 68, 66 & 67, and 69, 65 & 67, to have a three shot lead over Kodaira and a few others. However they then shot 73 & 75 resepectively, Nagano joining the big tie for 2nd and the young Thai in 11th. Both missed the cut last time out at the Musee Platinum Open, but had differing form before then. On this tour Khrongpha has missed his last 8 cuts including the last one, with that run only split by a 2nd at the Queens Cup on the Asian Tour. Whereas Nagano was my pick for the Sega Sammy Cup where he finished 10th, and had been 16th, 2nd, 12th, 24th & 41st before that.
Another Kim to make his debut in this event is Hyung-Sung Kim who currently sits 8th on the money list thanks to two 3rd places in his last two events the ISPS Handa Global Cup & the Sega Sammy Cup. Before that he was playing well with 12th in Thailand, 27th and 23rd although did withdraw from the SK Telecom Open in Korea before that, and his other top ten in the year was 4th at the Japan PGA Championship, the week before Korea.

My Selection

Matsuyama is clearly the class in the field and could well romp away with this, but at 5-2 he is extremely short and a better return from just a place could be found elsewhere. K.T. Kim wouldn't quite give a better return but with two recent wins is in good form, and will not have been delayed in Scotland like Matsuyama. Similar with Hyung-Sung Kim who has also been in good form recently. The defending champion Kodaira is also tempting in consistent form and of course the best record here, but then winning twice at the same event can be difficult. Which leads me back to Ryutaro Nagano, yes he did miss the cut a couple of weeks ago but was in good form before that with four top 20's in a row, plus he was going well last year until he faltered in the final round.