Friday, 19 March 2010

Renowned front runner Robert Karlsson sent a shiver down the spine of the field when he moved into a commanding four shot lead at the halfway stage of the UBS Hong Kong Open at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling.

The 38 year old Swede posted his second consecutive 64 in the second event of The 2008 European Tour International Schedule for a 12 under par total of 128 and a healthy advantage over his nearest challenger, Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez, who carded a 67 for an eight under par total of 132.

Nine players log-jammed into a share of third place on seven under par 133 including two of the pre-tournament favourites – South Africa’s Trevor Immelman and Mike Weir of Canada who produced two of the best rounds of the day with respective 62 and 64 – but the man they all have to catch is the towering Swede.

Karlsson won twice in the 2006 season on his way to The Ryder Cup Team, in The Celtic Manor Wales Open and The Deutsche Bank Players’ Championship of Europe, and on both occasions he led at halfway; by one in Germany and, ironically, by the same four shot margin he has here, in Wales.

The lead is also proof positive that the hard work he put in before the event, playing both pro-ams at the Fanling venue, has paid dividends and finally laid to rest the bad memories he had of the Hong Kong course fostered during his two previous visits.

“I now understood exactly what I need to do to have a good score around this golf course and then it is up to me to do it,” said Karlsson. “So far I have done well – for example, I used my driver only once today, at the sixth.

“It is a course where if you are trying to overpower it you are going to be in all sorts of trouble. My caddie said to me, if I’m going to come with you to that course, we are going to change something radically and we have because he had a tough time the last time here – I had a bit of a bad temper here then.

“But we put a bit of extra time in here in the preparation as I said yesterday, we played both the pro-ams to see if we could figure out how to get round it a little better, and also it is a follow on from the Volvo Masters which is a similar type of golf course.

“You have to play very conservatively off the tee and be very patient at Valderrama, even if this one has lower scores than there, it is the same type of golf course that I have had problems with in the past and so it is good for me to be here and practice that type of golf and work on my patience a bit.”

Certainly if he continues in a similar vein over the weekend as he has been over the first two days, Karlsson will be a very hard man to catch. In two rounds he has yet to shed a shot and the six birdies in his second round were spread evenly, three in each half, including a fine finish at the last where he holed out to great applause for a three from ten feet.

Closest challenger to the Swede, and the man who will partner him in the last two ball in Saturday’s third round, is Jiménez, who revelled in the Malaga-like sunshine.  The 43 year old Spaniard – a winner of 13 titles on The European Tour International Schedule – added a second round 67 to his opening 65 at the Fanling venue for an eight under par total of 132.

“Three under par today for an eight under par total and I always say if you make under par it is good,” said Jiménez. “I played really well on the back nine, my first nine, to be out in 32 and then on the back nine, although I still hit it good, I made a bogey on the sixth when my second shot got a flier over the green.

“I also missed a good chance on the third as well when I was actually putting for eagle but three putted for a par. But overall I am satisfied with the way I hit the ball and with the way I played, I just need a few more putts to drop over the weekend.

“I always enjoy this golf course, it is a great old fashioned golf course where you have to be safe from the tee to allow you to have a chance for the green. You have to concentrate hard here and I like it. Of course, there is also the weather which is great, it is like Malaga!”

Aside from Immelman and Weir, the ecletic group bunched together in a share of third place on seven under par 133 comprised Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, Scotland’s Barry Hume, America’s Bryan Saltus, Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee, England’s Simon Dyson and Swedes Martin Erlandsson and Jarmo Sandelin.

But Immelman’s 62 – which matched the 62 of first round leader KJ Choi – was the pick of the bunch and understandably the 27 year old South African was delighted to get right back into the tournament after his opening 71.

“My scores in the past couple of weeks have been awful but I have been working hard on the range and all of a sudden something started feeling good,” said the three time European Tour winner. “Sometimes when something feels good on the range you can’t always take it out onto the course but today I did. I felt comfortable and that was really good.”

Former Masters Champion Weir is also back in the frame after a tepid opening round of 69, a fact the Canadian left-hander readily admitted after his 64.

“I knew I had to shoot a really good score and a lot of birdies to try and keep me in with a chance of winning the tournament, I knew I had to keep the pressure on,” he said. “Yesterday I didn’t capitalise on the chances I had and was a bit rusty. But every day you get used to the greens and today I putted a lot better – that was the main difference.”

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1JIMÉNEZ, Miguel AngelESP18-15
T2CHOI, K JKOR18-14
T2KARLSSON, RobertSWE18-14
T2JAIDEE, ThongchaiTHA18-14
5HANSON, PeterSWE18-13
6MCDOWELL, GraemeNIR18-11
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