Hang-Tin Chiu overcame a shaky finish to again be the low scoring arrowhead as Chinese Taipei remained on target to end an 18-year title drought at the 27th Nomura Cup on Saturday.
Last champions of the biennial Asia-Pacific Amateur Golf Team Championship in Hong Kong in 1997, Chinese Taipei will tonight sleep uncomfortably on a lead trimmed from five strokes to three by eight-time winners Japan during today’s third round at Yas Links Abu Dhabi.
Saturday is traditionally moving day in a 72-hole golf tournament and so it proved with much nervy drama down the stretch and snakes and ladders action on the leaderboard.
Chinese Taipei lead on 622 to Japan’s 625 but made no progress in the third round, remaining 25 under par overall after Chiu’s one-under 71 and Yung-Hua Liu’s 72 was cancelled out by a 73 from Chun-An Yu.
For the second successive day Sun-Yi Lu carded Chinese Taipei’s non-counting score, a 75, in a format where a team’s three lowest scores count towards each day’s total.
Singapore leapfrogged into third place on 636, 13 shots off the pace, while New Zealand (637) and Australia (638) round out the top five heading into a final round which promises much tension, especially on the last three tricky, water-fringed holes of Yas Links challenging back nine.
South Korea, who have been conspicuous by their absence atop the leaderboard this week, made the greatest progress on moving day, Jae Kyeoung Lee’s best of the day 66 and a four-under 68 from Sung-ho Yun propelling them into three way share of sixth place alongside China and Thailand.
Thailand slid out of the bronze medal position with a disappointing five over aggregate for round three.
Chiu actually extended his lead atop the individual leaderboard by a shot, moving to 203, -13, to head China’s Cheng Jin and Japan’s Daisuke Matsubara by three strokes.
But a scrappy finish from the Chinese Taipei No.1 will give Jin and Matsubara great hope, not to mention Matsubara’s teammates in the all-important teams’ competition.
A double bogey six on the strategical conundrum that is Yas Links’ 16th hole followed two earlier inward nine dropped shots as Japan ratcheted up the pressure courtesy of a pair of 71s from Naoyuki Kataoka and Takumi Kanaya.
It could have been worse for Chinese Tapiei but Chui will take solace from scrambling a sand-save par on the long par 3 17th and somehow avoiding another dropped shot despite slicing his tee shot off the 18th tee so far right it ended up on the adjacent 10th fairway.
Chinese Taipei’s non-playing captain Tim Sung admitted the pressure had got to his young side but believes they have the mettle to win down the stretch tomorrow.
“The team score was even par today so fortunately we are still leading, but only by three shots and three shots for a team championship is nothing, maybe one hole it is wiped out,” said Sung who was also captain when Chinese Taipei last won in Hong Kong 18 years ago.
“They just have to play their own [game] and keep on playing. The front nine, I think some holes are pretty easy so we need to have some birdies there otherwise the back nine we’ll be under risk because 16, 17, 18 are pretty dangerous holes. If we would make under par tomorrow, say 210, six under par, that would be good.”
Sung has high hopes Chun-An Yu will come good after struggling with his putter following an opening 63 with rounds of 71-73. He also believes he has identified the issue that lead to Chiu’s loose finish today.
“Today, the pressure, I think I can accept that because our best player is Chun-An Yu and he didn’t play well the last two days, his putting no good today. But even the best players in the world sometimes don’t putt well. Still he shot nine under par in the first round so it could be heaven tomorrow…we’ll see,” Sung said.
“Hang-Tin Chiu did well on the front nine, I think he was four under, but the back nine I think he ran out of his energy. When he played the last few holes, his body is so inconsistent, not steady, so his shots are out of control and he dropped some shots and that influenced our team score.
“Today with his putts also, he was thinking hard, which is good, but maybe he is very, very tired. Maybe tomorrow, after a good sleep… I think they are ready for tomorrow and we must just do our best.”
The leading teams tee off at 10.30pm on Sunday.
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Non-playing captain Tim Sung insists his young Chinese Taipei team have “just come here for learning”, but at the halfway stage of the 27th Nomura Cup at Yas Links Abu Dhabi, they are the ones taking their rivals to school.
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After sharing the first round lead with Japan at 18-under par, Chinese Taipei continued to shock even themselves on Saturday by forging to a five shot lead on top of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Golf Team Championship leaderboard.
Led by Han-Ting Chiu’s 65, the lowest round of the day, the Chinese Taipei quartet returned a best three-of-four card team aggregate of seven-under par 209. That left them with a 36-hole total of 407, a combined 25-under-par, with Japan in second on 412 and Thailand in third a further seven shots adrift on 419.
Ten-time Nomura Cup champions Australia have found the early going tough at Yas Links. Australia were sixth, a whopping 20 shots off the pace, while New Zealand were slightly better in fifth place on 425.
The UAE endured a tough day, with teenager Ahmed Skaik’s 79 the highlight as the host slipped behind. Rashid Hamood (80), Khalid Yousuf (82) and Abdulla Al Qubaisi (non-counting 86) will look to do much better over the weekend with the UAE on 463.
Despite captain Sung’s modest objectives, Taipei were always going to be a force, considering they won the gold medal at last year’s Asian Games in South Korea.
Yu, who backed up his 63 on Thursday with a 71, is the only survivor from that victorious team. But the well of amateur golf talent is obviously deep in Chinese Taipei as Chiu, Yu, Yung-Hua Liu (73) and Sun-Yi Lu (a non-counting 76) have shown.
Chiu tops the individual leaderboard on 132, 12-under par, while Yu shares second place on 134 alongside Thailand’s Witchayanon Chothirunrungrueng and Japan’s Daisuke Matsubara.
Sung was understandably thrilled with Chinese Taipei’s early play.
“It’s a low score, a lovely score,” said Sung who was captain the last time Chinese Taipei won the Nomura Cup, 18 years ago in 1997.
“We had a great start in the first round, 18-under par. Today, we had a little struggle.
“Actually I didn’t expect we can win here even though we are the Asian Games champions. The Nomura Cup is tough competition with Australia New Zealand, Japan, South Korea… they are all good teams. We have only one player from the Asia Games and two very young, inexperienced players.”
Christofer Blomstrand’s sensational debut in the MENA Golf Tour ended with a podium finish on Wednesday as he won the inaugural Muscat Hills Golf Citizen Championship.
Leading by two shots overnight, the 23-year-old Swede had the luxury of bogeying the final hole and still winning the tournament by one shot on 11-under par after his nearest challenger, Germany’s Julian Kunzenbacher, agonisingly missed a 16-footer for birdie.
Spain’s Xavier Puig fired a course record 66 to finish third on eight-under, one ahead of Morocco’s Younes El Hassani, Ryan Smith of Australia and Per Barth of Sweden.
With his game on cruise control, Blomstrand never relinquished his overnight lead and made putts when he needed to make to complete a brilliant win, his second since turning professional three years ago.
“It feels just incredible to win here. I had a great week. Every part of my game fell into place, which was good,” said Blomstrand after receiving the winner’s trophy from Mohamed Juma Buamaim, chairman of the MENA Golf Tour, and Ray Stopforth, director of golf at Muscat Hills and Country Club.
“I never really felt threatened and played my own game. I could smell the victory when I birdied the 16th. Standing on the 18th, I had a two-shot lead. Though I three-putted, it was still good enough to get the job done,” said the Swede, who shot a final-round 70.
Germany’s Kunzenbacher went for broke in the last few holes. The aggressive approach worked well on the 16th where he picked up a shot, but missed his birdie bid at the last which would have forced a play-off.
Morocco’s El Hassani closed with a 71 to win the MENA Division on seven-under, four clear of second-placed Amine Joudar as Amine El Malki, also of Morocco, carded a 69 to join his compatriot Ayoub Lguirati and India’s Rayhan Thomas in a three-way tie for the leading amateur award on one-under.