Chinese Taipei’s Hung Chien-yao birdied three of his last five holes to brilliantly pull one-shot clear of South African Jbe Kruger after a thrilling third round at the US$1 million Resorts World Manila Masters on Saturday.
The 23-year-old Hung, the overnight co-leader, jostled with Kruger all day at a sun-kissed Manila Southwoods Golf and Country Club before edging ahead with a four-under-par 68 and a 14-under-par 202 aggregate to remain in pole position for a maiden Asian Tour victory.
Power-packed Kruger, chasing a second title in Asia, signed for a 69 which included a 12-foot eagle on 15, while another Chinese Taipei youngster Lee Chieh-po battled to a 71 to trail in third place, three off the lead.
Thailand’s Natipong Srithong fired a fine 66 to move into contention on 206 in tied fourth position with Spaniard Carlos Pigem, who enjoyed a bogey-free 67 in the richest golf tournament in the Philippines.
After succumbing to pressure when he held the halfway lead in Macao last month, Hung has shown maturity to maintain his chase for a career breakthrough, singing songs to his caddie to stay calm and keeping to the advice of his coach to think positive thoughts.
“I think I’ve done a good job. I feel pretty good,” smiled Hung.
“I knew the tempo and pressure wasn’t good (in Macao). I guess I was not experienced enough. I was leading after two rounds and I couldn’t handle the pressure and I just dropped it really bad. But this week has been good.
“Sometimes I’ll walk fast and my caddie will say ‘Hey boss, you’re a little under pressure’ and he’ll order a song name and ask me to sing to him. That makes me relax and not so much pressure. I’ve sung Autograph and Just the way you are … only English songs as my caddie doesn’t understand Chinese!”
After Kruger eagled 15 to snatch the lead momentarily, Hung birdied 14, 15 and 17 from inside of 12 feet to lead into the final day. Such was his concentration level that he didn’t realise he had strung together a strong finish.
“Really? I didn’t notice. I didn’t even mark my score for the last five holes as I was focused a lot. I was just thinking of getting onto the greens and having a putt,” he said.
“It would mean a lot (to win). This is my third year on the Asian Tour and I’ve told everyone back home that I still need experience. I’m not trying to push myself too hard. Just do my best tomorrow.”
Kruger, 29, has plenty to play for on Sunday as he needs to move his current 78th ranking on the Order of Merit into the top-60 to keep his card. He recently lost his playing rights in Europe. The South African said he needs his putter to start finding its range.
“I’m hitting the ball really well and I’m inside 15 feet on every hole. Like I said, I’m literally not making anything. Just need the putter to get hot. The confidence is not that great that I’m not giving it a run. Maybe I’ll change my routine a fraction just to get the ball rolling better off the putter face,” he said.
He rued a missed birdie chance on the par five 18th hole, firing a four iron to the back of the green and then missing an eight foot putt. “I was in between a four or five iron. The number said four, my gut said five. Now what? I thought I’d trust the number but I guess you need to trust your gut,” said Kruger.
One of the co-leaders at the start of the third round, rookie Lee, 21, nervously dropped three opening bogeys before battling back for a 71. “This is my first time playing in the last group. I didn’t expect myself to be so nervous. I just felt like my brain wasn’t functioning properly. My mind’s a blank,” said the Qualifying School graduate.
Another 21-year-old Natipong, playing on a sponsor’s invite, shot his career best of 66 to give himself an outside title chance. “I have no playing status on the Asian Tour yet and that has been pushing me to play well. I want to try and win to earn my playing rights,” he said.
Resorts World Manila Masters partners include Manila Southwoods Golf and Country Club and supported by Marriott, Scientific Games, Aristocrat, IGT Asia Pte Ldt, Fuji Xerox, Konami, Levelwear, Mitsubishi Motors, RGD LTD, Net Pacific, Inc, Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company, Avis and Glenmorangie.
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Scores after round 3 of the Resorts World Manila Masters being played at the par 72, 7,317 Yards Manila Southwoods GCC course:
202 – HUNG Chien-yao (TPE) 67-67-68.
203 – Jbe KRUGER (RSA) 69-65-69.
205 – LEE Chieh-po (TPE) 68-66-71.
206 – Natipong SRITHONG (THA) 71-69-66, Carlos PIGEM (ESP) 68-71-67.
207 – S.S.P. CHAWRASIA (IND) 70-70-67, Sam BRAZEL (AUS) 68-72-67, Prom MEESAWAT (THA) 72-68-67, Sukree OTHMAN (MAS) 71-68-68, Jeunghun WANG (KOR) 69-69-69, Adam GROOM (AUS) 69-67-71.
208 – Angelo QUE (PHI) 71-71-66, Rattanon WANNASRICHAN (THA) 68-73-67, Chan KIM (USA) 69-71-68, Rahil GANGJEE (IND) 72-66-70, Nicholas FUNG (MAS) 66-69-73.