HONG KONG (AFP) – England’s Aaron Rai smashed the course record by two shots with a blistering nine-under 61 at the Hong Kong Open on Friday (Nov 23), stunning fans and fellow competitors including Ryder Cup star Tommy Fleetwood.
Starting on the 10th hole at par-70 Fanling course, the world No. 201 had four consecutive birdies from Nos. 12 to 15 and another five in total as he stayed bogey-free for the tournament.
As the second round continued, the overnight co-leader held a four-stroke advantage on 14-under 126 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 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 No. 9, 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, whose best tournament finish so far is eighth, thanked his local caddie, calling him a “great character” and saying he helped keep him calm.
Going into the weekend of the US$2 million (S$2.75 million) event, 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,” he added.
“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.”
Sergio Garcia, the Ryder Cup’s all-time top points-scorer, carded 67 to lie 11 off the pace after a round sullied by bogeys on the final two holes.
“We’ll need a really good weekend,” the Spaniard said.
“I don’t know if I’m building (into the tournament) or not. I’m tired, I’m looking forward to resting.”
Yusaku Miyazato, whose first day five-under score saw him share the top spot with Rai, had a nightmare second day.
The Japanese, whose retired older sister Ai Miyazato is a former women’s world No. 1, got stuck in the trees on the 11th, and now sits at one below par.