Golf: Esaki-Kua grabs one-shot lead; Mason lurking with 69 at Big Island Invitational

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald
    Nick Mason shot a 2-under 69 on Saturday in the first round of the Big Island Invitational at Hilo Municipal and was two shots behind the leader, TJ Esaki-Kua. Nainoa Calip and Justin Keiley were at 68. The final round starts at 7 a.m. Sunday.

Professional golfers tend to acquire a level of anxiety when they enter 36-hole tournaments because the margin of error is so slim.

Nick Mason was reminded about that Saturday in the first round of the Big Island Invitational at Hilo Municipal when he toughed his way through a windy afternoon, finishing with a 2-under 69 that could have been higher and could have been lower.

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TJ Esaki-Kua felt a little bit of that on his first round when he shot a 67 to take the lead going into Sunday’s final round.

“Believe it or not, the conditions were almost perfect,” Esaki-Kua said. “It was my own mental mistakes that kept me from a better score, nothing to do with the conditions.

“I was 3-under on the front nine and then I basically gave it away with two bogies (9 and 15), that were both mental errors by me. I should know better but I let it happen anyway.

“I came here wanting a have a clean 4-under (67),” he said, “so I can’t be too upset because that’s what I finished with, but I had an opportunity for much better round. You try not to think of how low you might go by three under at the turn, it creeps into your head, I guess.”

A five-time winner of this tournament, Mason opened his round with three birdies and then made his own mental miscue.

“I was thinking ‘I might be able to get a 65 out of this,’ and then the next thing that happened, basically, was a double bogey on 14 and a bogey on 15. That wiped out anything good I had done all day.”

Still Mason was able to bring out two more birdies to get to 69, the same score posted by Hilo Municipal pro Kevin Hayashi.

“After (the two bogies), my only thought was, ‘I have to get in the 60s somehow to have a chance at this thing,” Mason said. “Ten years ago I probably would have blown up and shot even par, or a stroke over or whatever.

“When it’s only two rounds, you don’t have a lot of opportunity to catch up again, so back-to-back bogies? That can get you thinking some bad thoughts in a two-day tournament.”

Sunday morning there will be at least a handful of players waking up with the expressed intention of walking away about noon with a win and a $5,000 check.

That number would include Nainoa Calip and Justin Keiley, tied for second with 68.

Calip grew up here and said he has played the course “probably 500 times,” but that familiarity doesn’t always accrue to a player’s benefit. Knowing the course is one thing, making the right shot at the right time is a whole other thing to consider.

“It’s a total shootout in these (36-hole) tournaments,” said Calip, an assistant pro at Waikoloa. “It’s good for the little guys in some sense because one good round gets you in position. I went into today thinking it was going to be a good round for me, that I could win this thing, then I had two bogies and that changes everything.

“But (Sunday), I’ll come with the same approach, shoot a good round and win it,” he said.

Justin Keiley is a playing professional from Maui who had never tried this course and after nine holes he was at even-par. He birdied three holes in a row, on 5 with a 20-foot putt he sank, then he birdied 6 and 7 and with two to go had a chance for a sparkling score.

On each of his last two holes, Keiley, who finished his collegiate career at BYU as the Provo, Utah, school’s No. 1 player, missed putts he guessed were each about 15 feet, “so I ended up 3-under, not bad,” he said.

Sunday’s goal for Keiley could have been a blueprint for all the players under 70 in the first round.

“Don’t make a bogey and you give yourself a shot,” he said. “If you get three birdies on the front and the back, that’s a heck of a round. It’s always a good round when you don’t make bogey.”

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Sunday’s round starts at 7 am.