Hong Kong: Open winner and Ryder Cup hopeful Shane Lowry cranked up the heat to close in on former champion Wade Ormsby at the Hong Kong Open on Friday.
Ormsby surged ahead in early play, carding a four-under 66 to go nine under and stay top of the leaderboard at the historic Fanling course where he won his maiden European Tour event in 2017.
But headliner Lowry went three shots better than his opening round, including two birdies on the final three, to end four off the top and set up the chase going into the weekend.
“I’m very pleased,” said the Irishman, who failed to make the cut when he last appeared at Fanling a decade ago.
“Wade’s nine now, if he has a really good weekend he might run away… but hopefully I can shoot two decent scores and give myself a chance on Sunday afternoon.”
Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond — who also missed out on the cut at his last appearance — shot 66 to end three shots off the top.
“We’ll see,” he said, looking ahead to the final two days of the $1 million tournament that is taking place six weeks late after being postponed amid pro-democracy protests.
“This is new territory.”
India’s SSP Chawrasia carded a blistering 63 to surge up the leaderboard and end two shots behind Ormsby.
“I played good today,” he told reporters after setting the lowest round of the tournament so far — just two shots off the course record set by reigning champion Aaron Rai of England.
“I made a couple of good putts and my mental game was good.”
But the four-time winner on the European Tour knows things can change quickly at Fanling.
In 2017, he went into the final round as leader, but threw away several shots, allowing Ormsby to surge and claim victory.
His countryman Shiv Kapur finished six under to sit in third place alongside Janewattananond, Australian Fanling debutant Travis Smyth and Charoenkul Gunn of Thailand.
US world number 16 Tony Finau started strongly after a lacklustre first day, but shot three bogies over the round to card a one-under 69, seven points adrift.
That left “a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth”, said the American of Tongan-Samoan heritage, who was the first Polynesian to play in a Ryder Cup.
“I’m going to have to play better on the weekend to chase the guys who are playing well.”
As well as light winds, Aussies Ormsby and Smyth battled to stay focused as devastating bushfires rage in their homeland.
Ormsby described the view from his plane window on the way to Hong Kong as “just like a red dust storm”.
Smyth also has reason for distraction.
His sister’s boyfriend is a member of the special forces and was called up last week to help battle the blazes.
Along with fellow Aussie and 2014 champion Scott Hend, the youngster will donate money to bushfire relief for every birdie he shoots, with the competition hosts announcing plans to match Hend’s contribution. — AFP