Thailand’s Namchok Tantipokhakul posted a one-under-par 70 under tough scoring conditions to seize the outright lead by three shots at the halfway stage of the Warisan Harta Sabah Masters on Thursday.
The 28-year-old Thai, who is determined to end a two-year title drought, scrambled with three birdies in his closing four holes for a two-day total of seven-under-par 135 at the wind-swept Sutera Harbour Golf & Country Club.
Compatriot Nirun Sae-ueng, who also returned with a 70, took second place on his own while Rattanon Wannasrichan (70) and Piya Swangarunporn (69), also of Thailand, shared third with local hope Kemarol Baharin (69) on 140 at the US$100,000 Asian Development Tour (ADT) event.
Newly-crowned ADT Order of Merit champion Casey O’Toole returned with a 71 to sit in sixth place on 141 while joint overnight leader Khor Kheng Hwai of Malaysia slipped into a share of seventh after a disappointing 77.
Namchok, who started off the 10th tee, opened with three straight pars before stumbling with a double bogey on 13th. He picked up a birdie on the next but dropped another shot immediately on 15th turn in 37.
“I was scrambling on my front nine. With the wind picking up, the challenge was to keep the ball on the fairway and try to pick the right landing spot on the greens. I struggled to sink my putts on the front nine and I figured that I had to be a little more confident with my putter,” said the burly Thai.
Namchok, whose name means lucky in Thai, went on to cap a flawless back nine highlighted by three birdies on sixth, seventh and ninth.
He was counting his fortunes after a poor drive on the ninth hit the cart path and bounced back into the fairway. Having found the green in two, he holed a monster 30-foot birdie putt to stay in the lead.
“I was very lucky with that because I could have been in a lot of trouble in the tress. But I’m really happy to be playing well and contending again. I have struggled in my last few seasons but I’m beginning to find that winning confidence again,” added Namchok.
Nirun, who also started from the 10th, stumbled with a bogey on the par-four 13th but bounced back swiftly with a birdie on the very next hole to make the turn on 35. The 20-year-old sank another birdie on the eighth hole to stay in contention for his second ADT title.
“I stayed patient out there and a one-under effort would be a fair outcome. I could have holed a couple more putts but maybe I was a little too cautious,” said Nirun.
“I am feeling quite confident because I won here in Sabah last year. The swirling winds put a lot of importance on the right club selection and you have to take your chances on this tricky greens. I’ll stick to my game plan and just adapt to the conditions,” Nirun added.
The halfway cut was set at eight-over-par 150 with a total of 55 players, including three amateurs, advancing into the final two rounds.
Leading second round scores:
135 – Namchok Tantipokhakul (THA) 65-70
138 – Nirun Sae-ung (THA) 68-70
140 – Rattanon Wannasrichan (THA) 70-70, Piya Swangarunporn (THA) 71-69, Kemarol Baharin 71-69
141 – Casey O’Toole (USA) 70-71
142 – Pravee Visalkit (THA) 74-68, Lam Yu Shuen 77-65, Mitchell Slorach (SIN) 70-72, Khor Kheng Hwai 65-77
143 – Nakarintra Ratanakul (THA) 72-71, Danny Chia 72-71, Phachara Khongwatmai (THA) 71-72, Nattapong Putta (THA) 71-72