Taichi Kho’s surge promises exciting Sunday in New Zealand

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Taichi Kho - TheGolfingHub
Last year’s Asian Tour Rookie of the Year Taichi Kho is two behind frontrunners Scott Hend and Matthew Griffin from Australia, who fired rounds of 67 and 69 respectively to move in front on 14-under. Photo: www.photosport.nz

Hong Kong’s Taichi Kho will have a chance to win the New Zealand Open presented by Sky Sport at Millbrook Resort on Sunday after he moved into contention with a fine four-under-par 67 in Saturday’s third round – spoilt only by a double-bogey on the 18th that cost him the lead.

Related: Experience drives Scott Hend’s campaign in New Zealand

Last year’s Asian Tour Rookie of the Year is two behind frontrunners Scott Hend and Matthew Griffin from Australia, who fired rounds of 67 and 69 respectively to move in front on 14-under. They all played the Millbrook course today.

 

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Kho was in control for most of the day and was the outright leader playing the last, a par-three.

However, he found water off the tee and after taking a drop required three more strokes.

“I was a little bit quick coming down the stretch,” said the 23-year-old, who recorded an emotional and historic victory in the World City Championship presented by Hong Kong Golf Club last year, becoming the first player from Hong Kong to win on the Asian Tour.

“Didn’t quite have the breadth control. I stepped into that last shot a bit too quick. I think I picked the right shot, using a wedge. I tried to kind of ride the wind but just pulled and drew it.”

He’d surged up the leaderboard following an aggressive front nine that saw him go out in four-under with birdies on three, four, six and eight, which put him one off the lead. A bogey on the 10th was quickly dealt with when he made birdies on 11 and 12 and another on 14. A dropped shot on 16 was also appropriately handled with a birdie on the penultimate hole before his uncharacteristic error on 18.

He said: “I played great today. Hit the ball better, continued to putt well, the speed is getting better on my part. I did a lot of great things today but unfortunately sometimes you finish weak.

“It wasn’t my best finish today, but I think that will help me going into tomorrow. Just need to pace myself better down the stretch. Other than that it was a lot of positives.”

Despite the mistake on 18, Kho is clearly reveling being here and making up for the disappointment of last year. He made the trip to this event in the hope that, as a reserve due to his Qualifying School category, he would get a start if someone dropped out. He patiently waited all day on the first tee but there were no withdrawals, so he flew immediately out to get ready for the next event. 

He said: “I left right away to play International Series Thailand. I actually ended up playing pretty well there and I attribute that a lot to coming down here. I got my reps in for being in this environment.” 

 

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Kho is tied with fellow Asian Tour player Ian Snyman from South Africa, who recorded a 65.

Overnight leader Hend appeared out of it after going out in two over but produced a remarkable, rollercoaster back nine featuring an eagle, four birdies and a double.

 

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The eagle came on the par-four 16th.

He explained: “Yeah, just hit a wedge, just a sand iron from about 118. Didn’t want to miss the green. So, I played it up the spine of the green and I was hoping to get a little kick. It did, got lucky, went in.”

The 50-year-old is chasing his 11th win on the Asian Tour.

“If I’m in the last five, within the last five groups, I still think I can win. You know, you got a chance to win a tournament, you gotta be happy,” he added.

 

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Japan’s Kodai Ichihara (63) and Takahiro Hataji (66) and New Zealand’s Josh Geary (68) are in joint third, one behind the leaders.

 

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A total of 32 Asian Tour members, out of 59 at the start of the week, successfully made it through to the weekend.