Murota's Standing No Surprise June 27, 2015 | Sacramento, Calif. By Bill Fields

Kiyoshi Murota has become accustomed to contending in senior major championships, despite competing mostly in his native Japan. (USGA/J.D. Cuban)

If you’ve followed the Champions Tour in recent years, the fact that Kiyoshi Murota is only two strokes out of the lead through 36 holes of the U.S. Senior Open won’t come as a big surprise.

Murota, whose second-round 69 Friday at Del Paso Country Club left him at 3-under 137 heading into the weekend, within striking distance of Peter Fowler, Jeff Maggert and Tom Watson, nearly won the 2011 Senior PGA Championship.

Four years ago, Murota, now 59, shot 66-67 the opening two days at Valhalla Golf Club and shared the 54-hole lead with Hale Irwin. He closed with a 72 to finish one shot out of a playoff between Watson and David Eger, which Watson won.

Murota, 59, of Saitama, Japan, has played in four previous U.S. Senior Opens, his best finish a tie for 17th place in 2011 at Inverness Club.

That Murota is playing well at Del Paso isn’t a shock to him. “Two weeks ago in Japan I won a tournament,” Murota said through a translator. Asked what had been the best part of his game through the first two days, Murota smiled broadly and said, “Everything.”

Nicknamed “Ironman” in Japan for his strength and competitiveness, Murota was hindered by a bad back earlier in his career but has overcome the issue. “I’m much better in the back, but it’s still sore sometimes,” he said.

He completed his second round before the temperature reached triple-digits, which pleased him after being on the course in the worst of the heat Thursday. “The weather today was nice,” Murota said. “Yesterday was too hot, but today is nice.”

Murota was a teaching pro before joining the Japan Golf Tour, winning his first event in 1991. He is still a regular on that tour, despite the fact that he will turn 60 next month and also competes on the JPGA Senior Tour. His best finish in 2015 on the Japan Golf Tour is a tie for 12th in the Token Homemate Cup. He tied for sixth in last year’s Japan Open.

“I enjoy playing with young people,” he said. “I get power from younger people. The courses in Japan are easy. I can play well.”

Murota believes the courses in the U.S. are more difficult. At French Lick Resort last month in the Senior PGA Championship, he tied for 22nd.

“I want to play better than before,” Murota said. “I try each time.”

Halfway through the U.S. Senior Open, that effort has paid off well. If Murota is still in contention after 54 holes, no one should be surprised.

Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.

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