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Golf | Asia

Ryo Ishikawa © Gallo Images

Ishikawa given 'shot in arm' after two-year drought

Japanese golf star Ryo Ishikawa believes his first victory in two years has been the "best medicine" to save himself from the brink of oblivion and spur his fulltime US challenge next year.

His one-stroke win on Sunday at the Taiheiyo Masters, one of the Japan Tour's high-prized events, has also given the domestic men's game a much needed fillip to reverse slides in sponsorship, TV ratings and on-course spectators.

"It (one victory) changes the way I perceive everything," the tearful 21-year-old said after his 10th career victory, which made him the youngest player to win as many events on the Japan Tour.

"A victory is the best medicine. It's a medicine that gives me confidence. I can go to the United States with confidence," Ishikawa, due to switch from a part-time status to play as many US PGA events as possible next year, told reporters.

The Japan Tour season will close with three more events in the next three weeks, including the most lucrative Dunlop Phoenix and Casio World Open, each carrying prize money of 200 million yen (2.5 million dollars).

"If I have another win in the remaining three tournaments, it will really make my recovery complete," said Ishikawa.

US PGA said overnight Ishikawa finished 108th on its 2012 money list by earning some $870 000 this season. He was among the top 125 players eligible to play on the 2013 tour without qualifying or being invited.

Ishikawa, whose last win came at the same event in 2010, narrowly took the Taiheiyo title by keeping a one-stroke lead over Michio Matsumura into the final hole. Both of them missed an eagle chance and Ishikawa two-putted for birdie to win with a 15-under-par 273.

"Two years, indeed. It's been a bit too long," he said. "My desire to win has made even a 10-centimetre (four-inch) putt difficult."

Ishikawa has been hot marketing property since 2007 when he became the youngest men's winner on a major tour by lifting the domestic Munsingwear Open KSB Cup aged 15 years and eight months. He turned professional in 2008.

He scored his first nine wins as a teenager, all at home. But he has been erratic in battles with big-hitting players overseas which left him struggling to find the right swinging form.

Ishikawa, who topped the Japan Tour earnings list in 2009, finished third in 2011 and bounced back to eighth this season with the Taiheiyo win.

He has been invited to many events abroad, with his best major result a 20th tie at the 2011 US Masters. He was 89th in the world before the Taiheiyo event.

His decline had coincided with the dwindling popularity of the men's game in Japan. The final day of the 2010 Taiheiyo Masters, won by Ishikawa, drew 12 000 on-course spectators but the number dropped to 4 400 this year.

"Professional sports, particularly individual events, can be swayed totally by the excellent performances of extraordinary superstars," Waseda University sports marketing professor Munehiko Harada told AFP. "Golf has depended on Ishikawa."

Ishikawa himself has felt responsible for the fate of the domestic game.

In his column for the national daily Asahi Shimbun published last week, he warned that the number of Japan Tour events may be cut from the present 25, compared with a peak of 46 in 1983, in the throes of recession.

"What we golfers can do to give back to our sponsors is to raise the level of play on the Tour and boost our playing ability to compete on a global level," he said. "It would be ideal if there were about five Japanese golfers who could compete for a title in major tournaments around the world."


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