Nakajima earns Masters spot with playoff victory

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Keita Nakajima became the first No. 1 amateur to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, closing with a 3-under 68 and outlasting Taichi Kho on the second hole of a playoff Saturday.

Needing three putts from 20 feet to win, Nakajima finished in style by making the birdie putt after Kho had put his second shot on the 18th at Dubai Creek into the water.

Nakajima becomes the third Japanese player to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur, joining close friend Takumi Kanaya (2018) and Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama (2010 and 2011). The victory earned him a spot in the Masters in April at Augusta National.

He already is in the U.S. Open at Brookline and The Open at St. Andrews from winning the Mark H. McCormack medal as No. 1 in the world amateur ranking.

Kho, the No. 220 player in the amateur ranking and a senior at Notre Dame, ran off five birdies in a six-hole stretch starting on the ninth hole and closed with a nervy 6-foot par putt for a 65. The 20-year-old from Hong Kong finished 64-65.

Nakajima was in control in the final round until a double bogey from the bunker at the turn. He had three birdies on the back nine and then needed one more on the 18th to win.

That’s when the senior at Japan Sports Science University was tested.

His tee shot sailed right into the sandy area. With a strong breeze in his face and water guarding the front of the green, he hit the front of the green and two-putted from 35 feet for his 68 to join Kho at 14-under 270.

In the playoff, Nakajima went even further right into the waste bunker, while Kho had a short iron from the middle of the fairway. The Japanese star again found the green some 30 feet away and made par. Kho’s birdie putt to win ran 4 feet by, and he made that for par.

Nakajima finally hit the fairway on the second extra hole, while Kho hit into the waste area close to the steep lip. His shot grazed the lip and came up short into the water.

“I caught it a hair thin,” Kho said. “I did everything I could to hit a good shot. It just didn’t turn out my way.”

Nakajima raised his putter slightly when his birdie putt fell, and the celebration was on. His Japanese teammates doused him with water, and before long he was in tears. And then he turned and bowed to the course, much like Matsuyama’s caddie at Augusta National, a touching moment of respect.

It was the second straight playoff for the Asia-Pacific Amateur, with Yuxin Lin of China winning in 2019 over Kanaya.

Lin, a junior at Florida, was trying to become the first three-time winner and started one shot out of the lead. But he took at triple bogey on the second hole, and his chances ended for good with a double bogey on the 15th. He closed with a 71.

Wooyoung Cho of South Korea shot 65 and Oklahoma State sophomore Bo Jin had a 68 to tie for third, two shots out of the lead.

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