Japanese veterans hit the fast lane at Lexus

Toru Taniguchi (left) and Hiroyuki Fujita are bidding for top billing on the JGTO Money List.

Toru Taniguchi (left) and Hiroyuki Fujita are bidding for top billing on the JGTO Money List.

TOKYO – Hiroyuki Fujita and Toru Taniguchi resume their intriguing battle of wills in this week’s 150 million yen (US$1.7 million) Championship by Lexus.

While they will have one eye on next week’s Open Championship at St. Andrews, their focus at the Otone Country Club will be on strengthening their positions in the Japan Golf Tour Organisation’s Money List.

Currently it’s 41-year-old Fujita who’s leading the way with earnings of 55.7 million yen (about US$629,000).

But 42-year-old Taniguchi is hot on his heels, less than 5 million yen in arrears, and would like nothing more than to ascend to the summit before jetting off to Scotland on Sunday evening.

Fujita and Taniguchi are among seven Japanese in the field at the 7,044-yard Otone course who will head to the Open next week.

The others are Katsumasa Miyamoto, Hirofumi Miyase, Koumei Oda, Ryuichi Oda and in-form rookie Shunsuke Sonoda, who clinched his maiden JGTO title a fortnight ago in the Mizuno Open YomiuriClassic.

In Scotland next week, they’ll meet up with compatriots Ryo Ishikawa and Yuta Ikeda, victorious in last week’s Toshin Tournament at Lakewood. The top two players from last year’s JGTO Money List have opted to skip their home tour event this week to acclimatize to the time difference in Europe ahead of the Open.

Also in the starting lineup for the Championship by Lexus is Toshinori Muto, who triumphed in this event last year when it was held in November, and former PGA Tour regular Shigeki Maruyama, whose confidence is rising after a third-place finish last week.

Spearheading the overseas contingent are Koreans Bae Sang-moon, SK Ho and Kim Jong-duk, China veteran Zhang Lian-wei and Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

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