Juvic Pagunsan carded a 5-under 66 on Thursday, 3 shots behind Austria’s Sepp Straka for an impressive start to the Filipino golfer’s campaign at the Olympics in Tokyo.
Pagunsan, a 10-year veteran at the Japan Golf Tour, was playing Kasumigaseki Country Club for the first time.
But he was comfortable at the par-71 course that was softened by an overnight thunderstorm.
He was at under-3 total at the 11th hole, before proceeding with birdies on the 13th and the 16th for a flawless back 9.
A bogey on par-3 No. 4 was the only blemish on his card.
Locked in fifth spot were Pagunsan, Venezuela's Jhonattan Vegas, and Denmark's Joachim B. Hansen.
Pagunsan is the second Filipino man to qualify for the Olympics, and he hopes to top Miguel Tabuena’s showing at Rio 2016 where Tabuena finished a 7-over 291.
Meanwhile, Straka upstaged a slew of golf's biggest names to take a 1-shot lead in a sweltering opening round as home hero Hideki Matsuyama battled to stay in touch after a recent brush with COVID-19.
Teeing off in the first group with his twin brother Sam carrying his bag, 28-year-old Straka shot an Olympic record-equalling eight-under 63 at Kasumigaseki to be one stroke clear of Thailand's Jazz Janewattananond.
Belgium's Thomas Pieters and Mexican Carlos Ortiz were a stroke further back on six-under as headline acts Justin Thomas (71) and Rory McIlroy (69) labored on an oppressive day marred by a long suspension due to the threat of lightning.
Straka was cooling off in the clubhouse before the two-hour 20-minute break was called, and savoring a return to form after a dire period on the U.S. PGA Tour.
Masters champion Matsuyama, carrying Japan's medal hopes on his shoulders after recently recovering from COVID-19, shot a 69 to be six off the pace but said he felt the lingering effects of his illness as he ran out of gas on the back nine.
Matsuyama had four birdies in his first eight holes before bogeys on nine and 11 stalled him.
In such a golf-mad nation, Matsuyama deserved a crowd but the lack of spectators due to COVID-19 made for a surreal atmosphere.
Volunteers held up "quiet" signs to patches of vacant grass and British Open champion Collin Morikawa (69) called "fore" somewhat needlessly as he sprayed a shot into trees on the first.
American Morikawa was hardly alone in having to hack his way out of the thick Zoysia grass thriving off the fairways.
Others had little pay on the greens, including Thomas. The American was a picture of torment after none of his birdie putts fell in an astonishing round of 18 pars. — With a report by Toshiki Hashimoto, Reuters
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