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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 11, 2002

Murota's old hand steady in winning Pearl Open

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

'AIEA — While the young guns giving chase shot birdie blanks into the Pearl Country Club breeze, Kiyoshi Murota glided to a five-shot victory in the 24th annual Hawai'i Pearl Open yesterday.

Kiyoshi Murota captured his second Hawai'i Pearl Open. "I've gotten older, more mature, better with age," he said.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

The Japan pro's 7-under-par 65 on the final day brought a star-studded international field to its knees. It was the soggy tournament's finest round and left him at 11-under 205 for the week. When he won here five years ago, he was 3-under and needed a birdie on the second hole of sudden death to subdue Greg Meyer.

"I've gotten older, more mature, better with age," Murota said with a smile through an interpreter.

He smiled again and, in perfect English, admitted he was 46 — "But I look 36."

He was ageless in the midst of six birdies and an eagle yesterday. He played in the final group with Fiji's Dinesh Chand and Kane'ohe's Dean Wilson. All won on the Japan Golf Tour Organization last year.

The group behind was Meyer and Kevin Hayashi, both former Pearl champions from Hilo, and California pro Todd Fischer.

At the turn, Murota was 6- under, a shot ahead of Chand and two up on Meyer. But when Murota threw three straight birdies at his challengers early on the back nine, they had no answer. Murota hit sand-wedge approaches to three feet on the 11th and 12th, then launched a rocket of a 3-iron up the valley, 194 yards, into the wind on the 13th. When he sank that three-foot birdie putt, he put his older-but-wiser game on cruise control.

"He always plays solid, so it was nothing new," Wilson said. "He birdied 11 and 12, then he hit a great shot on 13, a tough par-3, and birdied that. When he chipped in for eagle on 17, it was over."

After Chand three-putted the 14th, no golfer was within four shots of Murota, and he wasn't backing up. He got his only mistake out of the way early, three-putting No. 4 for bogey. He still played the front nine in two under, then blitzed the back.

"The front nine is relatively difficult when the wind blows," Murota said. "But if the wind blows on the back nine, it becomes relatively easy. I just kept plugging away."

Chand (70) would stay closest, but could never close and finished second. Wilson (73) was bedeviled by a double bogey on the seventh hole, where he hooked his drive out of bounds, and eventually finished in a third-place pack. He was joined by Japan pro Kazuhiro Shimizu (70), and Meyer, Hayashi and Fischer, at 72.

"We were all missing putts," Hayashi said. "I started it. Three bogeys in a row on 2, 3 and 4."

Meyer said his problems went beyond putting.

"The shots weren't there, the rhythm was off," he said. "I was kind of off-rhythm all week, couldn't quite focus on what I was supposed to do. I managed to keep it together somehow, but you just can't continue like that."

It cost them nearly $2,000. Murota took home $12,000 of the $80,000 purse, and Chand collected $9,000. One less swing would have given any of the third-place pack $7,000. Instead, each got $5,100.

After slicing his first shot into the houses, Olomana pro Casey Nakama made one of the day's best comebacks, dropping eight birdie putts to charge into the top 10 at 67—215.

Even his round paled in comparison to Murota's, who is on a roll. He won the JGTO's Casio event in November to finish 13th on the money list. He calls that victory, and the 1994 Fuji Sankei championship, his two most memorable titles. But Pearl ranks surprisingly high for a guy who is used to six-figure payoffs. Murota has played here religiously the past decade and has no plans to stop.

"It's cold in Japan right now," he said. "This is beautiful. It's great weather, a wonderful place.

"I feel just like the weather — fantastic."

Japan's Hiroaki Munetsugu (70—217) was the low amateur, and tied for 18th overall. Only 15 amateurs made the cut, which came at 153 on Saturday. Punahou seventh-grader Michelle Wie, the first female to play the Pearl Open, missed out. The pro cut came at 151.