#AusAM: Internationals Dominate Men’s Championship

MArtin Blake - Golf Australia
January 11, 2023

International raiders, New Zealander Kazuma Kobori, and Singapore’s Ryan Ang have vaulted to the lead in the men’s Australian Amateur after stunning, second rounds of 65 and 67 respectively at the traditionally-difficult New South Wales Golf Club today.

Kobori, 21, made eight birdies on Wednesday, taking advantage of conditions that were as benign as could be found at New South Wales, which flanks Botany Bay and is exposed to high winds.

“I think we’ve got the good side of the draw. I got off to a hot start so that was nice,” he said later.

Kobori, who plays out of the New Zealand national academy and whose sister Momoka is already a world class professional, is at 10-under overall together with 23-year-old Ang, winner of the Singapore Amateur in 2021, and they are a shot ahead of Ireland’s Robert Moran and another Kiwi, left-hander Sam Jones.

The most prominent Australians are Jack Buchanan from South Australia, Queenslander Kai Komulainen and Western Australia’s Gareth Steyn at 7-under par, three shots back. Overnight joint leader Harrison Crowe from New South Wales faded with a 2-over 74 at New South Wales today and is now seven shots from the lead at the halfway mark.

Japanese-born Kobori emigrated to the Canterbury area of New Zealand with his family when he was five, and announced himself to the golf world four years ago when he won the NZ PGA Championship as a 17-year-old amateur.

His sister won the Sandbelt Invitational in Melbourne recently as is playing the Ladies European Tour in 2023, facts that were a source of pride for her elder brother. “The better she gets, the more it drives me to get better. It’s been good to see her get have success, so hopefully I won’t get too far behind.”

He intends playing amateur golf in New Zealand and the United States this year but has his eye on tour schools and a professional career soon enough.  Yet he has a chance to win big this week first.  “I haven’t played here that much,” said Kobori. “I kind of used this as a look at the course, get a few ideas of what to do and use that to play better over the next two days.”

Kobori knew it was a day for low-scoring – when can New South Wales ever have been so malleable? – and he capitalised, but he was not the only one to shred the notoriously-challenging courses of Sydney’s south.

Ang, who plays out of Singapore Island Country Club, was a revelation with his 67 at New South Wales, finishing with a birdie at the par-5 18th hole. He completed military service two years ago and has been part of the Singapore national team for some time under Australian Matt Ballard’s coaching.

“I’m happy to keep doing what I’m doing, keep putting myself in the same spots, and play my kind of golf,” he said. 

Finland’s Markus Luoma also shot a bogey-free 66 at St Michael’s to move into the top five.  “I hit it probably the best I have in my life, just didn’t miss a shot there,” he said later.

Kiwi Jones, a 26-year-old who spent four years in the American college system, shot 5-under at New South Wales. “It was pretty benign out there, no wind at all to speak of. It was a bit of a rough week (in Melbourne) last week, it’s a bit of a surprise to come out here and play well.”

The Australians enjoyed a good day on Tuesday but were off the pace in round two. Buchanan had one lucky break when an errant tee shot at the fifth lodged in a spotter’s golf cart, saving him from having to find his ball in the plentiful mulga at New South Wales. The runner-up in this event in 2022, the South Australian is still well-placed.

The disappointment of the day was Crowe’s inability to push through the rust that bothered him in Melbourne last week. After a good start – two early birdies – he lost a ball at the par-4 15th and took double bogey, and he was not at his mercurial best. Nor was first-round joint leader Connor McDade, who went backwards with a 74 at St Michael’s when low-scoring was the story of the day. Komulainen, the 17-year-old junior star, took the lead momentarily but ended up in a tie for eighth, yet still is in contention.

The players will congregate at New South Wales from Thursday for the final two rounds, with the cut-line set at 3-over par, and 70 players making it to the final two rounds.

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