Ishikawa to donate nearly £2m to Japan earthquake relief fund

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The Independent Online

The talk of the range here yesterday, as the Shell Houston Open concerned the incredible generosity shown by Ryo Ishikawa. The 19-year-old has pledged to give all his winnings this season to the Japan earthquake relief fund.

"I feel thrilled. My goal is 200m yen [£1.5m]," said Ishikawa, who is at Augusta preparing for next week's Masters. "I have enough money to spend from my golf; I still have savings... I will be playing with a greater purpose this year."

Ishikawa, easily the biggest name in Japanese golf, also revealed he will donate a further 100,000 yen [£750] for every birdie he makes in 2011. As the world No 46 notched 341 last year his gift could top £1.7m. Even in the dollar-laden locker rooms that figure has raised eyebrows. "My respect for Ryo has just increased exponentially," said Graeme McDowell. "Classy guy."

The earthquake struck while Ishikawa was competing at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami three weeks ago. He was in second place after an opening 65, but on speaking to his family and watching coverage of the tragedy he dropped back to 42nd.

Ishikawa has already earned over £3.3m from the Japanese Tour alone since turning professional three years ago, and has a string of lucrative sponsorship deals, including Panasonic and Toyota. He won his first title on the circuit as a 15-year-old amateur and has had eight more wins since, including The Crowns last year after a closing 58 – the lowest round on any tour in history.

Meanwhile, Lee Westwood enjoyed a fine start here as he tunes up for the season's opening major. A four-under 69 left him three off Nick O'Hern's early lead. He enjoyed six birdies in a 10-hole stretch from the sixth and on the last played "one the best shots of my year so far" when hitting a five-iron from the bunker to within six feet from 211 yards.

"It was seven birdies without holing a putt," said Westwood who is using a new putter this week. "On the 18th that was the longest I holed all day." Playing partner Phil Mickelson, the reigning Masters champion, shot a 70.