Friday, 19 March 2010

For the third time in as many tournaments, Spain’s José Manuel Lara is setting the pace after a four under par 66 took him to ten under par 130 and one stroke clear of his closest rival, Gregory Bourdy of France, at the halfway stage of the UBS Hong Kong Open.

Promising Australian Andrew Buckle and Juvic Pagunsan, of the Philippines, are one stroke further back alongside China’s Zhang Liang-wei, who tore through the field with a best of the week 63 that included seven birdies and an eagle at the Hong Kong Golf Club.

Lara, who led both the Mallorca Classic after two rounds and the Volvo Masters after one at the end of The 2006 European Tour International Schedule, went out in level par before four birdies in a back nine of 31 lifted him to the head of proceedings.

A lob wedge to ten feet at the tenth got the ball rolling after a dropped shot the previous hole before a drive six iron to 15 feet on the 13th set up an eagle chance. Although the putt slipped by, Lara followed that birdie with another on the 15th and then hit it stiff on the 17th to take the lead.

“I have been playing well the last two months,” said Lara. “I have been hitting the ball so well and have just had a short break from those two tournaments at the end of last season so I am still confident.”

Lara, a contemporary of Sergio Garcia, is particularly enjoying the company of compatriot Miguel Angel Jimenez in Hong Kong and, no doubt over a glass of wine, picking the brains of the champion of two years ago.

“We have dinner with Miguel every night,” said Lara. “He drinks the red wines or whatever but not me at the moment - maybe in a few years. We travel together and it is a very good atmosphere.”

The UBS Hong Kong Open his last chance this year to register that long-awaited European Tour victory after being runner-up four times although he does have two more events to play before hanging his clubs up for the winter. The first is the final event of the Spanish Tour and then a fun team match with four teams of eight players, each representing the Seniors Tour, The European Tour, the Challenge Tour and the Spanish Tour.

“That’s like a Spanish party,” admitted Lara.

Bourdy continues to make the most of his opportunities. After finishing in the top 115 on The 2006 European Tour Order of Merit and securing his playing card from just 18 starts, Bourdy is making an immediate impression in his 2007 campaign with a bogey free second round of 66 to lie one shot off the lead. Three of his four birdies came from putts within three feet.

“I think nine under after two rounds is a good score here,” said the Frenchman. “I am driving it well and steady which is important for this course.”

Zhang provided the round of the day with a seven under par 63 at Fanling to put him in contention for a first title since 2003. The 41 year old has struggled of late but rolled back the years with a vintage display. Five birdies in his first seven holes took him out in 31 and, after bogeying his tenth, the first on the composite course, he picked up an eagle two holes later, drawing a five wood to six feet.

He then birdied the fourth and sixth before dropping a second shot on the seventh to lie at eight under par and well placed among the leaders.

“This is an important tournament because it is so historic and an Open tournament,” said Zhang, who last victory was in the 2003 Volvo China Open. “I am excited to go into the third round in a good position.”

Colin Montgomerie forced his way back into contention with a four under par 66 which could have been so much better but for more frustration on the greens which included a three putt for bogey four holes from home. Nevertheless at six under par, the defending champion is posing a significant threat going into the weekend.

“I am back in the tournament but disappointed really as that could have been very, very good, as yesterday should have been,” said the Scot. “Never mind. I am still back in there.”

Of the other star attractions, Campbell shrugged off his ankle injury for a one over par 71 but lies well off the pace at one under par, as does K J Choi, who holed from 15 feet for par to make the cut on the mark, but double US Open Champion Retief Goosen missed out by one after a one over par 71.

Meanwhile Thailand’s Chawalit Plaphol had more than just a tough golf course to contend with when his ball on the 11th came to rest among the coils of a seven foot snake. Not surprisingly he didn’t bother retrieving the ball and, after withdrawing a safe distance and taking a free drop, Plaphol didn’t hang around too long to play the shot. He too missed the cut.

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1LARA, José ManuelESP18-15
2PAGUNSAN, JuvicPHI18-14
T3SINGH, Jeev MilkhaIND18-12
T3JAIDEE, ThongchaiTHA18-12
T6JIMÉNEZ, Miguel AngelESP18-11
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