American Chan Kim put on a gutsy display to remain in the hunt for his second victory as Kazuki Higa and Takumi Kanaya joined first-round pace-setter Taiga Semikawa in a three-way tie for the halfway lead at the Japan Open on Friday.
Kim, 32, ensured he’s well-placed heading into the weekend after recovering well to birdie two of his last three holes to salvage an even-par 70 at the Sanko Golf Club on Friday.
That moved him to tied-fourth on three-under 137, just three shots adrift of the leading trio.
Sadom Kaewkanjana also turned in a solid performance to return back-to-back rounds of 69 as he bids to become the first Thai to win the prestigious tournament.
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On a day where most players were struggling with the tough course set-up, Higa and Kanaya stood out with a superb 66 and 68 respectively to give themselves a shot at becoming a national Open champion for the first time.
After carding an opening 64, Semikawa did well enough with a 70 to keep himself at the top of the leaderboard.
Kim, the winner in 2019, got off to an inspiring start with a birdie on the opening hole but could not build on it.
He would then concede three strokes with bogeys on the sixth, 12 and 14 holes before staging a fine comeback in the closing stages.
Kim believes the play is going to get even tougher in the weekend, but he’s game for it.
“I hit it okay, just that I missed a couple of my iron shots when I was in the fairways, I missed a couple of chips and made a few bogeys,” said Kim, who’s gunning for his eighth JGTO title this week.
“But I finished with birdie-par-birdie to bring it back to even-par. Looking forward to the next two days.
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“It’s going to be very hard I think as the greens are going to get really firm and fast. I got to hit a lot of fairways and hopefully get my irons shots close and make some putts.”
Australia’s world number 32 Adam Scott, the highest-ranked player in the field this week, battled to a 72 to be tied for 26th on 143.
Trailing the leaders by nine, Scott stressed that all is not over yet.
“I would like to shoot a good round tomorrow. I will tee off fairly early tomorrow, so hope for the best conditions in the morning,” he said.
“If I can somehow get two or three-under-par for the tournament, you’ll never know, with the course set up this hard, a six-under might be good enough to win.
“I just need some putts to go in. I have to change my strategies on the green.”
Higa, who’s certainly enjoyed playing alongside Scott, rode on his momentum midway through the round where he notched four birdies over the five-hole stretch from the 14th to join the title race.
Higa, who’s already a three-time winner this season, knows a fourth victory this week would edge him closer to the coveted Money Ranking honour.
“Being able to keep the fairway is great. I missed a lot of approaches today as well, but I was able to get through it well,” he said.
“I’ve been watching Scott play for a long time. His accuracy is very good.
“At the 2016 Japan Open, I had the opportunity to play with Matsuyama-san and Scott-san during the practice round.
“I was happy that he (Scott) remembered me when I told him about that time.”