Jeju-do, South Korea; May 21: Big-hitting Australian Kurt Barnes made a clutch up-and-down on the final green to establish a one shot lead over Korea’s Kim Kyung-tae heading into the final round of the SK Telecom Open.
The 26-year-old Barnes dropped just one shot in a five-under-par 67 third round at Pinx Golf Club to improve to 14 under overall after blitzing a course record equalling eight-under-par 64 on Friday.
After winning the GS Caltex Maekyung Open earlier this month to move up to second place on the OneAsia Order of Merit, world number 35 Kim Kyung-tae carded a bogey-free 66 to keep in touch with his playing partner and move three shots clear of former champion and halfway leader Park Sang-hyun.
“I played really solid. I had a couple of miss hits, but that is expected and I am really happy with my score,” said Barnes, who was a doubt to even start this week due to a shoulder problem. “I feel really excited. It has been a while since I have been in a position like this and I am really looking forward to the challenge.
“I was in two minds how to hit that shot on the last and I just squeezed it a little and it went right. That was probably the only mis-hit I had all the day, but I was able to get it up-and-down to make par which left a nice taste in my mouth. It is always a positive to finish like that, it’s not the way you want to finish, but I did and it is a confidence boost.”
Playing partners Park, Barnes and Kim were all tied at 12 under and four clear of the chasing pack at the turn before 2009 Sofitel Zhongshan IGC Open winner Barnes made a 20 foot birdie putt to edge clear with five to play.
Kim responded a hole later to draw level, but Barnes posted his sixth and final birdie of the day with two holes to play to again edge ahead before recovering from a wayward approach into the final green with a superb chip over a greenside bunker before holding his nerve to hole a tricky four foot downhill putt.
“I have got a very experienced caddie on the bag this week and I think it is going to pay big dividend in the final round,” added Barnes, who finished seventh at The Crowns in Japan at the start of May.
“We have got a great relationship and I am definitely looking forward to the challenge because it’s been a while since I have been in front and I will do my best to try and stay in front and try and make the guys run me down.”
With Barnes failing to find the final green, Kim (right) had a chance to draw level but the 24-year-old missed a testing long distance birdie chance and was forced to settle for sole possession of second place after a second consecutive bogey-free round.
“I had a great round again, all my shots felt great,” said Kim, who won three times on the Japan Tour last year to become the first Korean to top the end of season money list.
“Again on the front nine I was able to make a lot of birdies just like in the first two rounds and I am happy that I was also able to maintain my score on the back nine and capitalise on the opportunities I had.
“Since I started playing on the Japan Tour I have had a lot of rounds without a bogey because it is a much higher level and I have had to raise my game. The more I play on a higher level tour like the Japan Tour, I feel like I get more experience and I feel more confident.”
A second round 65 had handed Korean Park a one shot overnight lead, but the 2009 champion conceded three late bogeys to slip four shots off the pace after a 72.
“My condition is not good, but I will try and keep it up in the final round. I am happy with my third round because I did not play that well,” said the 28-year-old, who finished third at the Ballantine’s Championship behind world number one Lee Westwood at the end of April.
“The weather forecast is for rain so I might have to change my strategy as I am several shots behind.”
A 69 from Ashley Hall lifted the Australian into fourth place at eight under with Korea’s Jung Ji-ho a further shot adrift following a third round 70.
Korea’s Han Chang-won continued to impress on his rookie season after a 68 lifted the teenager to six under alongside defending champion Bae Sang-moon and compatriot Kim Hyung-tae (71), with OneAsia Order of Merit leader Andre Stolz (71) a further shot off the pace.
KJ Choi continued to feel the aftereffects of his Players Championship victory last week, although the world number 15 was able to birdie his final hole to post a 71 to improve to four-under-par just outside the top-10 tied for 12th alongside fellow Korean Kim Bi-o (72).
Leading third round scores
202 – Kurt Barnes (AUS) 71-64-67
203 – Kim Kyung-tae (KOR) 70-67-66
206 – Park Sang-hyun (KOR) 69-65-72
208 – Ashley Hall (AUS) 71-68-69
209 – Jung Ji-ho (KOR) 72-67-70
210 – Han Chang-won (KOR) 72-70-68, Kim Hyung-tae (KOR) 70-68-72, Bae Sang-moon (KOR) 72-67-71
211 – Andre Stolz (AUS) 66-74-71, Kim Si-woo (am, KOR) 74-66-71, Scott Arnold (AUS) 67-72-72
212 – KJ Choi (KOR) 67-74-71, Lee Jin-won (KOR) 73-68-71, Kim Seung-hyuk (KOR) 71-70-71, Terry Pilkadaris (AUS) 71-69-72, Kim Bi-o (KOR) 74-66-72