Kang well placed for South China treble

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 April, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 April, 1999, 12:00am

Kang Wook-soon is becoming accustomed to setting benchmarks. And as he closes in on what would be an unprecedented South China treble at the US$200,000 Macau Open the unassuming South Korean admits it's a role he relishes.

Thanks to his tumultuous triumphs in last November's Perrier Hong Kong Open at Fanling and the Omega PGA Championship at Clearwater Bay, Kang secured the Asian PGA's 1998 Order of Merit crown.

Not only was he the first man to achieve that feat twice, but also he became the first player to win back-to-back events on the Asian PGA Tour.

Courtesy of a battling two-under-par 69 at the Macau Golf & Country Club yesterday, Kang is menacingly poised in joint second spot with Lee Westwood at the halfway stage of the fourth leg of the 1999 circuit.

With identical 36-hole aggregates of 135, seven under, Kang and Westwood are one stroke off the pace being set by Taiwan's Michael Chang Tse-peng, who needed just 25 putts in compiling a course record 65, which included an eagle-three at the second and an outrageous, curling 50-footer at his final hole, the ninth.

Despite being, by his own admission, well below his best, Westwood followed up his opening 66 with a 69 to remain on level terms with Kang, his co-first-round leader.

'I didn't feel on top form. Physically I didn't feel great. I woke up very early [5.30 am] with jet-lag. The flight across [from Augusta] has caught up with me and I feel a bit sickly tired,' said Westwood, who displayed commendable resolve with three birdies in his final six holes.

Also in contention in joint fourth on 137 are the experienced Asian duo of Taiwan's Hsieh Chin-sheng and Thai Boonchu Ruangkit.

Korean Choi Kyung-ju should have been on that figure, too. Indeed, Choi shared top spot at eight-under with two holes remaining, but took five at the daunting short 17th and six at the long 18th.

And that was not the worst of it. No sooner had he returned to the clubhouse than he was whisked back to the par-five second hole with playing partner Gilberto Morales of Venezuela and rules officials.

En route to making a birdie four there, Choi's caddie had pulled out a yardage marker prior to his player executing his second shot from 200 yards out. It was deemed that the marker was supposed to be an immovable object and he was duly penalised two strokes.

His four became a six and the former power-lifter slipped to a one-over 72. Going into today's penultimate round he is among a group of seven at three-under that also includes defending champion Satoshi Oide of Japan.

It was particularly harsh on Choi as it was he, unsure if the correct procedures had been followed, who had brought the incident to the attention of tournament officials.

Kang was in a rather better frame of mind than his compatriot. 'I thought there would be a lot of low scores,' said Kang.

Although he rolled home four birdies yesterday, his putter was not at its hottest.

'The pin positions were tougher than on the first day and the greens had dried out.'