• Kyodo

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Overseas invitees Sergio Garcia of Spain and Hank Kuehne of the United States got off to a solid 5-under-par 66 start by taking a share of the lead along with Jun Kikuchi on the opening day of the Dunlop Phoenix on Thursday.

Making his third appearance at the tournament at the Phoenix Country Club in Miyazaki Prefecture, the 23-year-old Garcia, who finished runnerup in 1999 and 2002 with a stroke average of 67.5, sank three birdies each in the front and back with a bogey on the par-4 12th.

The four-day event, celebrating its 30th anniversary, offers total prize money of 200 million yen — the highest of any golf tournament in Japan — with Sunday’s winner taking home 40 million yen.

Kuehne, the 2002 money champion on the Canadian tour, carded seven birdies against two bogeys in his tournament debut and Kikuchi also had seven birdies and a pair of bogeys.

A further stroke behind were eight golfers tied for fourth, including 1999 champion Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, who is aiming for his first victory of the season, Taiwan’s Lin Keng-chi and Australian Craig Parry.

American David Duval, crowned the champion in 2001 two years after becoming world No.1, withdrew from the competition featuring 84 men due to a pain in his left shoulder.

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