‘Diamond’ Phachara sparkles with birdie-rich 63 to grab Hong Kong Open lead

Dubai based Gaganjeet Bhullah tied 12th as golfing powerhouses Smith and Bae hot tail the leader

By Team KT

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Phachara Khongwatmai of Thailand. - AFP File
Phachara Khongwatmai of Thailand. - AFP File

Published: Fri 10 Nov 2023, 4:52 PM

Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai unleashed his full repertoire of shots to take the lead in the $2 million Hong Kong Open on Friday, after carding a brilliant seven under par 63, stacked with 10 birdies.

He leads on 12 under by one from two golfing powerhouses - Australian Cam Smith and Sangmoon Bae from Korea, who returned rounds of 66 and 63 respectively on a warm and sunny day at the Hong Kong Golf Club, Fanling.

American Micah Laurent Shin (63), Thailand’s Sadom Kaewkanjana (64), Kiwi Ben Campbell (64) and Harrison Crowe (65) from Australia are one shot further back – in the penultimate leg of this year’s International Series.

Chinese-Taipei’s Lee Chieh-po is also tied with them following a 65, driven in a big way by a hole-in-one on the par-three eighth – which saw him rewarded with the keys to a BMW I5 eDrive40 MSE.

Phachara’s nickname is ‘Diamond’ and he certainly put together a gem of a round today which also demonstrated a new-found maturity.

LIV Golf's Cam Smith, one shot back of the leader after round two - at the Hong Kong Open on the Asian Tour.- |Supplied photo
LIV Golf's Cam Smith, one shot back of the leader after round two - at the Hong Kong Open on the Asian Tour.- |Supplied photo

On the iconic par-four 18th facing a difficult second he decided to lay up to avoid the pond that guards the green, as opposed to taking it on in his usual trademark cavalier style. It paid off as he got up and down for the par save.

“My game is better game right now,” said the Thai golfer. “Like on the last hole I could hit it to the green, but it was like a one percent chance to get on green and the pin was back left. If I hit it past the green on the right side,

“I have no chance to make a par. So, then I thought okay, lay-up, and then I hit a good third shot and made par.”

Phachara has been knocking on the door of second victory on the Asian Tour since his maiden win at the end of 2021 in the Laguna Phuket Championship.

In September he was beaten in a sudden-death play-off at the Shinhan Donghae Open in Korea, while last month he was third in the SJM Macao Open.

Sang-moon Bae of South Korea. - AFP File
Sang-moon Bae of South Korea. - AFP File

Smith admitted he wasn’t quite at his best today despite nailing six birdies with two bogeys.

“It was a lot tougher [today],” said the 2022 Open winner, who made three birdies on the trot from the first.

“Early alarm this morning, body wasn’t quite working this morning. But you know, it was alright, it was a little bit scrappy to be honest. It was good to get out of there with three or four under there.”

His two round total is already three shots better than when he finished joint ninth here in 2014, the only other time he has played in the event.

Smith said: “I’d like to think that I improve every year. You know, that was a long time ago, I probably didn’t hit the ball as far, I probably didn’t do anything as good as what I’m doing at the moment.

“So yeah, completely different scenario and hopefully I can keep improving.”

Bae, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, registered an eagle, seven birdies and two bogeys.

His fine start to the tournament has ratified his decision to be here this week.

“I was in the field in Bermuda on the PGA Tour this week, but I made a decision to play in China, here, and maybe Indonesia next week, so I think it was a really good decision,’ Bae said.

“And, you know, I’m trying to find my game, and so far it’s really good. I mean, the putting is good, iron shots are good.”

Dubai-based Gaganjeet Bhullar (India) shot a second round 66 to go along with his opening 67 to be seven under and in tied 12th.

Bhullar told Khaleej Times: “I played better than yesterday. I missed only one fairway, which is impressive around this tight layout. I left a few putts out there – but overall it was a decent round and I am looking forward to the weekend.”

American Harold Varner III signed for a brilliant best of the day 62, which was 10 shots better than his first round, to leap into a tie for 21st place.

Australian Wade Ormsby, the defending champion, returned a 71 to finish one over and miss the halfway cut, a brave performance considering his father passed away two weeks ago.

Second Round Leaders

(6,710, Par 70).

P. Khongwatmai (Thai) 65. 63. 128.

C. Smith (Aus) 63. 66. 129.

S. Bae (South Korea) 66. 63. 129.

S. Kaewkanjana (Thai) 66. 64. 130.

M. L. Shin (Malaysia) 67. 63. 130.

H. Crowe (Aus) 65. 65. 130.

B. Campbell (NZ) 66. 64. 130.

L. Chieh-po (Chinese Taipei) 65. 65. 130

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