Young talent Lee Chieh-po of Chinese Taipei continued his fine run by signing for a three-under-par 69 to stay four shots back of leader Chikka S of India at the halfway stage of the Asian Tour Qualifying School final stage presented by Sports Authority of Thailand on Thursday.
Lee, who just turned professional earlier this month, compiled a two-day total of seven-under-par 136 to sit in fifth place with overnight co-leader Danthai Boonma of Thailand at the par-72 Imperial Lakeview Golf Club.
Chikka fired eight birdies against two bogeys to lead on his own while Australian Paul Spargo stayed two shots back in second place following a 69. Sweden’s Daniel Chopra shared third place with last year’s Qualifying School winner Akinori Tani of Japan, who played at the par-71 Springfield Royal Golf Club, on 135.
A total of 102 players from the top-100 and ties after the second round successfully progressed to the final two rounds which will be played only at Springfield Royal. The top-40 and ties will earn an Asian Tour card for the 2015 season after the final round.
Lee, who had finished second at the First Stage of the Qualifying School at Imperial Lakeview last week, is determined to keep his momentum going as he put himself in a favorable position heading into the final two rounds.
“I actually thought I could play better today. I feel more confident playing at the Imperial Lakeview. I have been keeping to my own pace although I didn’t play as well on the back nine. I didn’t sleep well last night and I was feeling tired, probably because I’ve been playing since last week.
“The course here suit my game a lot. I was not worried even though it was windy. I am used to this kind of conditions because it’s always windy when we play back home in Chinese Taipei. You need to putt well to score. My putting has been good so far,” said Lee, who mixed his card with six birdies against three bogeys.
Despite facing the strong test this week, Lee is relishing his prospects of playing in the weekend rounds in what was his first attempt at the Asian Tour Qualifying School.
“There are a lot of good players out here but I feel that I’ve done enough preparations before coming here. I had actually set a higher target for myself this week which is to top the class on Saturday, hopefully this will motivate me to do better,” added Lee, who had won a professional tournament on his local tour when he was still an amateur two months ago.
One-time Asian Tour winner Himmat Rai of India edged closer to regaining his Asian Tour card after posting a 67 at the Springfield Royal. He is tied in seventh place with four other players on 137.
“I hit it nicely today. You have to keep your ball in play to score on these courses. The greens can be quite challenging on the front nine at Springfield Royal. You have to put the ball in the right positions because it’s fairly undulating,” said the 27-year-old Indian, who won the ISPS Handa Singapore Classic in 2011.
Rai, who made only two cuts in 17 starts last season, is determined to turn his game around in the new season by first securing his Tour card this week.
“It hasn’t been great for me last season but I thought I was playing well towards the end of the season. I worked with my coach and my fitness trainer back home during the break, ensuring that I was doing the right things. I just want to enjoy myself and play my best this week,” added Rai.
China’s Liu Yan-wei battled to a 72 to survive the halfway cut which was set at one-over-par 144.
“I struggled a bit with the wind. It was tougher playing in the afternoon but I’m glad I made the cut. I feel a little bit stressed out because there are so many good players out here and everyone is vying for the top 40 spots. It’s only my first time here so I will tell myself to stay calm and not think too much,” said the 17-year-old Liu.
All Qualifying School entrants will be eligible to compete on the burgeoning ADT, which was inaugurated in 2010 as a gateway to the premier Asian Tour. The secondary circuit staged a record total of 21 tournaments in the 2014 season.
With the Olympic Games looming in 2016 where golf will be reintroduced as a medal sport, players in the region could earn their spots in Rio de Janeiro by earning Official World Golf Ranking points through the Asian Tour and ADT.
Leading round two scores:
132 – Chikka S (Ind) 66, 66
134 – Paul SPARGO (AUS) 65, 69
135 – Daniel CHOPRA (SWE) 68,67, Akinori TANI (JPN) 67, 68
136 – LEE Chieh-po (TPE) 67, 69, Danthai BOONMA (THA) 65, 71
137 – PARK Jun-sub (KOR) 66-71, Himmat RAI (IND) 70-67, Peter EROFEJEFF (FIN) 70-67, Phachara KHONGWATMAI (THA) 66-71, Matthew GILES (AUS) 72-65