Young guns fire the big shots to lead New Zealand Open field

The young guns have fired most of the shots as teenager Joohyung Kim (Korea) and Ben Eccles from Australia, both from the Asian Tour, have pushed to the top of the leaderboard after the second round of the New Zealand Open, presented by Sky Sport, near Queenstown.

Seventeen-year-old Kim, who held the overnight lead after his 64 at Millbrook Resort on Thursday, backed up with a four-under 68 at The Hills today to sit at 11-under par after 36 holes.

He has a one-shot lead from Eccles, who was added to the field from the reserve list on Wednesday morning. The Geelong player put two weeks’ holiday in Queenstown on hold, but he wasn’t complaining after finishing the day in second place on 10-under after a four-under 69 at The Hills.

Talented Thailand player Pavit Tangakamolprasert and Australian Lucas Herbert are one further shot back on nine-under, a shot ahead of the leading New Zealander, Kieran Muir with the top-10 rounded out with five players tied on seven-under including former champions Michael Hendry and Brad Kennedy, the ever-present Harry Bateman, in-form Wade Ormsby and fellow Australian Nick Flanagan.

At the other end of the spectrum, it proved a disappointing day for kiwi hope Ryan Fox, who shot a four-over 74 at Millbrook Resort today to finish on two-over which was two shots outside the cut of even-par for the top 60 players and ties to contest the final two rounds.

Kim, who’s nickname ‘Tom’ harks back to a childhood fascination with the television series Thomas the Tank Engine, wasn’t getting ahead of himself despite showing tremendous mettle in difficult conditions at The Hills.

“Tomorrow is only the third round to be honest. Yeah I am in the lead halfway through but there are so many big names just one or two strokes away and those guys, when it comes to the intense moments, they always deliver. I just have to bring my A-game, stick to the game plan and play the best I can,” Kim said.

“With the tough conditions it was not easy. We had a three-four club wind swirling. It was tough but I managed myself really well and hope I can keep it up at the weekend.

“I have been working really hard and it is nice the scores (lately) have matched the work. I am still not at the top and I am trying to learn every day from the guys who are way more experienced than me. I am very fortunate that the veterans have been very nice to me and tell me how to play golf, how to play best.”

Eccles will be chasing his first win as a professional after claiming a debut victory in the 2015 NSW Open as an amateur.

He had a difficult 2019 season in Europe, but is enjoying happier times after recently confirming his Asia Tour card.

“Yesterday I played awesome, in those conditions as well it just all came together. This morning I got off to a fast start – eagle, birdie, birdie. It awesome, it’s an amazing feeling and hopefully I can keep going,” Eccles said.

“I just wanted to keep enjoying it, that’s been the main thing for me this week. The last couple of years I haven’t enjoyed it a hell of a lot out in Europe, a bit of a mindset shift in the last few months.

Tangakamolprasert emerged on the back of a brilliant eight-under par 64 at The Hills with eight birdies without blemish in his round, enjoying the relative still conditions before the winds blew strongly later in the day.

“I’m very pleased with how I’ve played today especially with my driver as I managed to hit most of the fairways. I love this course as it favours the long hitters like me. I made a lot of putts today too,” he said.

Herbert was another big mover on day two, climbing up to a share of third despite wearing his father’s golf clothes after his luggage failed to follow him in time from Mexico where he played the WGC event last week.

“Compared to yesterday, it was so much different. There was pretty much no wind out there. The course is in great shape like you’d expect around here. I just couldn’t ask for better scoring conditions so it’s almost kind of frustrating to only shoot 4-under.

“Hopefully I can just go out there and play some good golf and let that speak for itself rather than kind of just using my name because I think they’re all great players out here.’

Hendry, the 2017 champion, charged back into contention with a six under 66 at The Hills.

“If I can continue hitting the ball the way I am, I wouldn’t say I’m hitting it spectacularly, getting away with the bad shots, not missing a lot of fairways, not missing a lot of greens, and start to see the ball roll in there’s no reason why I can’t be close come Sunday,” Hendry said.

Amongst those to miss the cut were former champions Michael Campbell, Peter Fowler, Peter O’Malley, Matt Griffin and Daniel Nisbet.

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