Golf: Puig, Kokrak mount challenges at International Series England
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Brilliant young Spanish golfer David Puig showed just what he is capable of today by shooting a bogey-free five-under-par 66 to take a share of the halfway lead at the International Series England, with Jason Kokrak from the United States.
Puig, in just his second year in the professional game, fired five birdies in his first eight holes and then parred his way home to top the leaderboard on six-under.
Kokrak returned a 69, while his compatriots Andy Ogletree and James Piot, Australian Jack Thompson and Abraham Ancer from Mexico, are one shot back.
Ogletee, leader of the Asian Tour Order of Merit (OOM) and the International Series (OOM), fired a fine retaliatory 65 after his opening 72, with Piot, Thompson, and Ancer returning 67s.
First-round leader Sarit Suwannarut from Thailand carded a 72, recovering well after a poor outward half that saw him make four bogeys on the trot, and is a further shot adrift.
It was another grey and cold day at Close House, near Newcastle, with light showers in the afternoon but that did little to deter Puig, who is looking to claim his maiden title since turning professional following a fine amateur career at Arizona State University.
“Hitting the ball pretty good, the putts that dropped at the beginning didn’t drop at the end but overall, pretty happy,” said the 21-year-old, who plays on the LIV Golf League.
“It was tough. But at the end of the day, at least for me, it’s a pretty short course so I have a lot of wedges in. It was maybe an extra club off the tee on some of those holes, but at the end of the day, you’re hitting the same club into the green.
“It was obviously a little more windy than yesterday, but I don’t think it played that tough because the greens are still pretty receptive and with preferred lies. But yeah, it was a grind too, I mean you needed to hit good shots to have birdie opportunities, and I think I did.”
In his first start on the Asian Tour last year, at the International Series Morocco, he led after three rounds before taking solo third and looks a safe bet to in the hunt on Sunday.
He said: “I think I have a good strategy here. Just try to hit fairways, it’s a pretty big advantage here, and then control my spin with those wedges and try to make as many putts as I can.”
“I’m really happy,” said Kokrak, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, the most recent in 2021, when he triumphed twice.
He made three birdies and dropped one shot, having gone bogey yesterday with a 67.
“Yesterday with the way I got around, I hit it really nicely. Didn’t have my best stuff today, didn’t hit it quite as good. Made a few putts to start the round to kind of keep it going, a couple five, eight footers here and there, but hopefully, you know, tidy a few things up and make a few putts over the weekend.”
The 38-year-old is aiming to give himself “as many birdie-looks as possible” at the weekend plus “more birdie looks inside of 20 feet”.
Ogletree arrived this week short of playing time, having travelled with LIV Golf as a reserve, but has quickly wiped the dust off. He shot the best round of the week so far, tearing up the course with four birdies on the back nine after starting on 10, followed by three on the front side before dropping his only shot of the day on nine.
He said: “I hit my driver a lot better today and I was in position a lot, kept it on the right side of the hole locations. There are some big run offs around the greens here, so you have to really pay attention to where the up slopes are, and kind of play the right portions. That’s what I was doing today, just kind of kept it in front of me. One bad drive in the last hole there, cost me a little bogey coming in. But other than that it was a good round.”
The 2019 US Amateur champion has excelled on The International Series, winning this year’s International Series Qatar, and last year’s International Series stop in Egypt.
“I don’t think it’s so much the Series, just getting to play in golf tournaments now so people are getting to see how I can play. I’m trying to win every week I tee it up and I got a good chance this weekend,” he added.
After a poor season so far, Thompson is showing the kind of outstanding form that saw him win this year’s Asian Tour Qualifying School.
He played his first nine in level-par, but then shifted gear and shot up the leaderboard on the second half with four birdies, including two in the last three holes.
“I honestly didn’t do too much different to yesterday. I just hit it a little bit closer with the shorter irons, so yeah, happy with where it is at,” said Thompson.
On the wintery conditions, he commented: “You can get a little bit like this in Australia, I guess in winter. It’s been not too bad. I think so far probably I got the better side of the draw. I mean it wasn’t raining that much, but sometimes it can sort of play on your mind a little bit or you know. It’s cold as well so it doesn’t go as far, but I think I’ve been lucky with the weather as well.”
England’s Ian Poulter returned a 70 and is three under with Travis Smyth (68) and Matt Jones (70) from Australia, India’s Anirban Lahiri (69), South African Neil Schietekat (69), Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai (70) and Suradit Yongcharoenchai (71), and Zimbabwean Kieran Vincent (70).
England’s Lee Westwood (75) finished on the cut, made at three-over, along with Poulter’s son, Luke (73), an amateur.