Monday, February 12, 2001
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Posted on: Monday, February 12, 2001

Japan pro prevails at Pearl Open

Read more about golf in our special Golf Report

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Nearly 200 players entered the Hawaii Pearl Open. By yesterday afternoon, all eyes were on two.

Japan’s Hidemichi Tanaka and Hilo’s Gregory Meyer turned the $80,000 tournament into a two-man shootout. Tanaka won, soaring ahead with an eagle on the next-to-last hole and making the one-stroke lead stand up with a scrambling par on the last.

He closed with an 8-under-par 64, for a 54-hole total of 15-under 201. Meyer shot 65, missing 6-footers on the final two holes.

Both entered the day as pursuers. Hilo’s Kevin Hayashi, the defending champion, took a four-shot advantage into the final round — six ahead of Tanaka and Meyer.

At the turn, the trio was tied at 11 under. Tanaka and Meyer were 4-under-par at that point and Hayashi was struggling. He would finish third at 74-205.

"Coming into today, with Kevin so far ahead, I figured it would take 14 or 16 under to win," Tanaka said. "So on the front nine, I was very relaxed. Same with Greg, I think. Then we birdied 10, 11 and 12 and it started to get really exciting."

Did the golfers feed on each other’s excellence?

Tanaka, a two-time Japan Open champion and among the top five on last year’s Japan PGA money list, grinned and nodded. "I have to say, Thank you, Greg.’ "

Meyer put together five birdies in a row to reach 14 under on the 12th. Tanaka got to the same number with four in a row. Then, on one of Pearl Country Club’s simplest holes (par-4 14th), he drove dead into a palm tree off the tee.

His ball hit loudly and dropped straight down. Tanaka’s second shot was a radical hook to get him around the rest of the trees. The ball stopped behind Meyer’s drive. Tanaka bogeyed to fall one back.

Meyer’s advantage lasted two holes, as he sank a 10-footer for par on the 15th and Tanaka did the same on the 16th. Everything changed on the 17th, a 519-yard par-5 where both reached the green in two.

Meyer’s first putt was the length of the green. He ran it six feet by, then missed coming back.

"I was just trying to two-putt, I didn’t care what he did," Meyer said. "The first putt was good, it just kept going. If it was a little softer it had a chance to curl back in, but it just went right through the break. I thought the second putt was good, too. It just slid away."

From 196 yards out, Tanaka — 5 feet 5, 135 pounds — hit a 6-iron for his second shot. The ball stopped six feet short of the hole and he rammed that in for eagle.

Meyer gave himself one more chance, hitting his approach shot close on the final hole. Tanaka hooked his drive behind trees and punched his second shot into a bunker. He blasted out to within two feet and sank the par putt to win after Meyer’s birdie attempt rolled off the right edge.

"I played a little too much break," Meyer said. "Just one of those things."

Tanaka led the American Express World Championship after three rounds last November, but had never won at Pearl. He joked yesterday that he finally learned how to read the greens. Meyer said there’s more to it.

"He’s got no real weakness," Meyer said. "He hits it long, doesn’t really hit it off line. When he gets in trouble, which is rare, he can recover well."

SHORT PUTTS: Japan PGA golfers Dinesh Chand (70), Dean Wilson (72) and Jon Duck Kim (66) tied for fourth at 10-under 206. Chand is from Fiji, Wilson from Kaneohe and Kim from Korea. ... The low amateur was Japan’s Yukitoshi Mitsuyama (70-215), who beat Hawaii’s Shane Hoshino (72-215) in a playoff... . Gregory Meyer won this tournament in 1987 and ’88. ... Hidemichi Tanaka will play in two PGA Tour events before returning home to play on the JPGA tour.

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