Thai teenager Phachara Khongwatmai posted a bogey-free round 65 to share a joint single-stroke lead with Italy’s Nino Bertasio at the halfway stage of the Maybank Championship in Malaysia on Friday.
The duo hold a marginal advantage over Scotland’s Marc Warren, Japan’s Yuta Ikeda and English duo Lee Westwood and Chris Paisley, who are all tied on third.
Thai sensation Phachara, 18, said he learnt a lot from the match-play style tournament.
“My partner Hideto Tanihara taught me a lot and he calmed me down because I was very nervous,” Phachara, who shot seven birdies, told reporters.
“It has been a long time since I’ve been bogey-free. I putted very well because I didn’t hit the ball close to the hole.”
Earlier, Westwood finished with a 62 after an astonishing 11 birdies at the Saujana Golf and Country Club, where he won the Malaysian Open in 1997.
“It’s nice to be in contention and to know this golf course well,” Westwood, 44 said.
Say hello to the calmest 18-year old in golf.
— Maybank Championship (@maybankchampio1) February 2, 2018
A competitive field saw a host of golfers remain only two shots off Phachara and Bertasio in tied-seventh, including last year’s runner-up David Lipsky of the United States.
Top-ranked Henrik Stenson of Sweden also made the cut after an improved performance for a 67 to lurk six shots from the joint leaders.
Perhaps the biggest name to miss the cut was China’s Li Haotong, who finished in an abysmal tied-125th.
There were high hopes that Li would stamp his mark on this tournament after his eye-catching victory at the Dubai Desert Classic last week, where he upstaged four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy.
Leading scores after the second round of the Maybank Championship Malaysia (Par 72):
133 – Phachara Khongwatmai (THA) 68-65, Nino Bertasio (ITA) 68-65
134 – Lee Westwood (ENG) 72-62, Yuta Ikeda (JPN) 70-64, Marc Warren (SCO) 68-66, Chris Paisley (ENG) 65-69
135- Stephen Gallacher (SCO) 70-65, Daisuke Kataoka (JPN) 68-67, Hideto Tanihara (JPN) 71-64, Dylan Frittelli (RSA) 69-66, David Lipsky (USA) 67-68, Maximilian Kieffer (GER) 69-66, Jorge Kampillo (ESP) 69-66
136 – Andrew Dodt (AUS) 71-65, David Horsey (ENG) 66-70, Ryan Fox (NZL) 68-68, Danthai Boonma (THA) 70-66, Robert Karlsson (SWE) 68-68, Thomas Detry (BEL) 68-68, Thomas Bjorn (DEN) 68-68, Thongchai Jaidee (THA) 69-67, Prayad Marksaeng (THA) 71-65, Soren Kjeldsen (DEN) 69-67, Lee Soo-Min (KOR) 67-69
Golf superstar Rory McIlroy says a heart defect will not prevent him from challenging again to be world number one and add to his tally of four majors.
The 28-year-old Northern Irishman, who begins his year in Abu Dhabi next week ranked 11 in the world, told The Daily Telegraph he doesn’t lose too much sleep over it.
“I have a flat T-wave and I’ll have to get an echo (cardiogram) on my heart every six months and an MRI scan every year,” he said.
“I suffered a really bad viral infection in China 18 months ago and they told me that’s the reason that I have this thickening of my left ventricle and there’s a bit of scar tissue.
“For now, I just need to stay on top of it and have to stay fit. Hey, I was planning on doing that anyway.”
McIlroy, whose marriage last year to Erica was a high point while on the course he failed to win a tournament, accepts he has to regain his brio on the circuit.
“I won four majors from 2011 to 2014 and everyone was saying ‘that’s Tiger pace’,” said McIlroy.
“I realise everyone knows I haven’t won one in the last three years and that is a worry, yeah.
“I need to get back on that track and this year my goals are to add to my major tally and get back to world number one, winning more times than anyone else.
“It’s simple, there are no excuses with my game or my private life. I’ve had the best time of my life in the last few months,” added McIlroy, who spent his honeymoon with Erica on a road trip through Italy.
McIlroy, who recently bought South African star Ernie Els’s house in Florida, believes he has the mental strength now to take on all comers and not to freeze.
“I still feel that on my day, if I’m on my roll, and especially if I’m playing with them…I just crave to be in that position again.
“That hasn’t always been the case with me. The first three years with my career I struggled when it came to that head-to-head stuff down the stretch, with the big guys, but now I actually think it’s when I am at my best.”
The rising generation of Americans dominated 2017 after Spaniard Sergio Garcia’s memorable Masters triumph, laying down a marker ahead of next year’s Ryder Cup in Paris. Brooks Koepka, 27, claimed the US Open title, before Jordan Spieth’s third major crown at the British Open and his fellow 24-year-old Justin Thomas’ breakthrough victory at the USPGA Championship.
Add in world No1 Dustin Johnson, and United States Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk has a formidable team more than capable of repeating October’s Presidents Cup thrashing of the Internationals. The US are the favourites to retain the trophy come next September at Golf National, but they haven’t won on European soil since 1993 at The Belfry.
“We have 25 years of scars to overcome,” Furyk said in Paris in October.
“I don’t want (them) going in there being overconfident that they are the greatest team. I want them going in with a chip on their shoulder that they have something to prove.”
Europe’s stars had a mixed season, although 37-year-old Garcia produced the year’s stand-out moment by ending his wait for a major title by edging out Justin Rose in a thrilling Masters play-off in April. Garcia’s compatriot Jon Rahm stole a few headlines by rising to world No4 in his first full season as a professional, but four-time major winner Rory McIlroy was plagued by injuries and loss of form as he failed to win an event for the first year since 2008.
American players received most of the plaudits for their major winning exploits, but Europeans like Tyrrell Hatton, Rafael Cabrera Bello and Paul Casey slid slightly under the radar to finish 2017 inside the world’s top 20. “You tell me a time where there’s been 11 Europeans in the top 21 in the world,” said Europe’s Ryder Cup skipper Thomas Bjorn.
“It might have happened but it’s not something that you see very often.
“So that’s a very strong European team.”
Tiger’s back, again
A year that began with a failed attempted injury comeback from Tiger Woods, ended with the 14-time major champion starting another return. The 41-year-old pulled out of February’s Dubai Desert Classic with a back injury, but after surgery and an appearance as a Presidents Cup vice-captain, he produced a promising performance in the Bahamas earlier this month.
“I knew I was going to be able to play all four rounds, that wasn’t going to be an issue,” said Woods, who also missed all of the 2015-16 season with back trouble, after finishing tied-ninth at the Hero World Challenge.
“I was still scratchy with my irons. I drove it pretty good, made some good putts.”
The chances of Woods adding to his major tally – and reviving his bid to chase down Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record of 18 titles – will become clearer when he returns to Augusta National for the Masters. A first major triumph since the 2008 US Open may seem a long way off but Woods could still be a force to be reckoned with if fully fit – he won five PGA Tour titles and reclaimed the world No1 spot in 2013 when he last managed a full season.