(Reuters) – Aaron Rai fired a course-record nine-under-par 61 to surge into a four-shot lead after the second round of the Hong Kong Open on Friday.
The 23-year-old Englishman took full advantage of perfect scoring conditions for the early starters in Fanling, sinking six birdies in his first nine holes.
Three more birdies ensured he bettered the existing course record by two strokes to set the clubhouse target at 14-under-par heading into the weekend.
Several players struggled with cold and windy conditions as the day progressed, but Rai, who led by as many as seven strokes when he walked off the course, was relieved to have signed for a second consecutive bogey-free round.
“We didn’t have much wind and, starting out pretty early the first nine holes, it feels like you’re playing a round at home, which is nice,” he told reporters at the first event on the 2019 European Tour calendar.
“But I played very well, kept it in play, had a lot of chances and made a lot of putts, too. Everything was on song today.”
Rai, seeking his maiden European Tour win, said he would continue to adopt a balanced approach in a bid to extend his stay at the top of the leaderboard.
“I think if you get too conservative and if you try and defend the lead a little bit too much, you can start going backwards very easily but also you can’t get too aggressive around this course,” he added.
South Korea’s Park Hyo-won fired five birdies on the back nine to sign for a brilliant 62, one shot better than the previous course record, to sit second at 10-under overall.
Late starter Matthew Fitzpatrick matched Park’s 62 with a late birdie spree to storm into contention on eight-under for the tournament.
Tommy Fleetwood, the highest ranked player in the field, improved on his sluggish opening round with a 65 as the Briton climbed 18 spots up the leaderboard to sit tied for fifth.
The world number nine is on six-under at the halfway stage, alongside Australian trio Jason Scrivener, Scott Hend and Jake Higginbottom as well as Spain’s Alvaro Quiros and Brazilian Adilson da Silva.
Reigning U.S. Masters champion Patrick Reed staged a remarkable recovery with six birdies in his last seven holes to make the cut.
The American finished with a five-under round of 65 to finish level-par after 36 holes, 14 shots off the pace.
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by John O’Brien)