Hong Kong Open: Aaron Rai hits course record 61 at Fanling to take a four-shot lead at the halfway stage
- The Englishman who wears two gloves on the fairways shoots nine birdies in sunny conditions at the Hong Kong Golf Club to break the old record of 63
Aaron Rai wears two gloves, he meditates to keep himself calm and, as of Friday, he is the new course record holder for the Championship course at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling.
The Englishman fired a blistering nine-under-par 61 in sunny conditions at the US$2 million Honma Hong Kong Open to lengthen his lead at the halfway stage following his 65 on Thursday.
His 14-under 126 total gives him a four-shot lead over South Korea’s Park Hyoson, who also broke the previous record of 63 with his second round of 62.
England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick came inches from matching Rai but his putt on the 18th fell inches short, however his 62 catapulted him into third place, six shots adrift of the lead.
American Lauren Micah Shin is fourth on seven-under 133.
The tournament leader on his course-record 61.
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“We were lucky today with the conditions,” said 23-year-old Rai, who teed off from the 11th and collected nine birdies. “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.
“But yeah, 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’s 61 beat the previous record of 63 held by four golfers – Chris Wood, Lucas Bjerregaard, David Howell and Miguel Angel Jimenez. Although Ian Poulter shot 60 in 2010, it is not an official record because of preferred lies that year.
Also improving on their first-round performances were England’s Tommy Fleetwood, Spain’s Sergio Garcia and American Patrick Reed, who produced one of the best back nines seen at Fanling with birdies on six of his last seven holes to go even for the tournament and make the cut.
Rai, whose career as a “child prodigy” has been tracked since he was five years old, is one of those rare golfers who wears two gloves, whereas others usually have one.
He said it started when he was eight and he was given two gloves by someone who makes them and felt obliged to use them both.
“A few weeks later, my dad forgot to put the two gloves in the bag and I had to play with one and it was terrible. I couldn’t play, couldn’t feel, couldn’t feel the grip. So always stuck with two ever since.”
Rai said he would stick to the same game plan for the next round, possibly scheduling some mediation overnight before he tees off on Saturday.
“I’ll just to try and stay as close to the original game plan as possible. 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.
“As hard as it is and as easy as it is to say, you just have to try and stick to what you’re doing and what has got you into this position.
“I try to do meditation [to stay calm]. I’ve done that probably a good few years now and that certainly helps. Just trying to have a good perspective on the golf course.
“It’s very easy for us as golfers to lose that, but I think if you have a good perspective and keep reminding yourself that you’re doing an amazing thing, your job, to be doing a hobby for a living is pretty rare and pretty special.”
Fitzpatrick put himself in the mix over the weekend and is hoping for a similar round on Saturday in the hope of catching Rai.
“I don’t think I missed a fairway because that is the key here,” said Fitzpatrick. “I hit every fairway, made sure I hit every green and gave myself a chance.
“Aaron had a fantastic round this morning and pulled himself away a little bit. But knowing I’ve done it once it will be nice to do it again a couple of more times.”
When asked about the missed putt on the 18th to equal the course record, he said: “Don’t know if I can comment. I might get in trouble.”
US Masters champion Reed was six over and five strokes off the cut when he entered the 12th hole. But birdies on 12, 13, 14, 16, 17 and 18 hauled him back to even-par with the cut made at one-over 141.
“When I saw the putt go in on the 12th, I knew from there it was a huge uphill battle from where I was but the first thing I thought was, well, we have a lot of holes left and if you hit the fairway, you’re going to have a wedge in your hand.
“And I thought with wedges, it wasn’t going to hurt too bad so I could go ahead and be really aggressive and I was able to hit a lot of fairways, and hit some close and make some putts.
“It’s awesome to be able to come down the stretch and feel like a week is almost lost and all of a sudden have seven holes left to go and birdie six of the last seven.”
Fleetwood shot five-under 65 to go six-under for the tournament alongside Jake Higginbottom, former Hong Kong winner Scott Hend, Jason Scrivener, Adilson da Silva and Alvaro Quiros.
Garcia hit three-under-par 67 and is joint 22nd at 137 overall.