Hong Kong: There was high drama at the Hong Kong Open on Friday as upstart Aaron Rai smashed the course record with a blistering nine-under-par 61, and Masters champion Patrick Reed birdied six of the final seven to avoid elimination.
England’s Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood and Spaniard Alvaro Quiros all found their form in calmer weather conditions to keep Rai within sight as they head into the weekend.
Beginning his round at the 11th hole, Rai, the world number 201, made four consecutive birdies from 12 to 15, and another five in total as he stayed bogey-free for the tournament.
The overnight co-leader opened up a four-stroke advantage at the top of the board over South Korea’s Park Hyo-Won, who also broke the previous course record with his 62.
Rai, who like Park is seeking his first win on the European Tour, improved on the record of 63 at the par-70 Fanling first shot by Chris Wood in 2012 and equalled by Lucas Bjerregaard in 2015, David Howell in 2016 and Miguel Angel Jimenez in 2017.
Fleetwood, the world number nine, made a charge with his 65 to lie eight shots off the pace, but afterwards he was full of praise for the 23-year-old Rai. “It’s great golf that... very, very impressive stuff. That’s all I’ve got to say,” said Fleetwood, who narrowly missed out winning his second Race to Dubai this month.
“I wish I could have watched it.”
Rai thanked his local caddie, calling him a “great character” and saying he helped keep him calm.
Going into the weekend, a composed Rai said his tactics would be to stick “as close to the original game plan as possible”.
“We were lucky today with the conditions,” added Rai.
“We didn’t have much wind and starting out pretty early, it was quiet for the first nine holes so it kind of feels like you’re playing a round at home, which was nice.”
‘Birdies in bunches’
Fitzpatrick carded 62 to keep up the pressure on the unheralded leaders, although was disappointed to come up short with a final putt that would have seen him equal Rai’s new course record.
The USA’s Micah Laurn Shin carded 67 to end seven off the lead. — AFP