Kruger, Maruyama in joint halfway lead in Samui

Samui, Thailand; June 17: South African Jbe Kruger edged towards a maiden Asian Tour victory when a three-under-par 68 gave him the joint halfway lead with Japan’s Daisuke Maruyama at the Queen’s Cup on Friday.

The 24-year-old Kruger, who finished runner-up on three occasions last season, extended his rich vein of form with four birdies against a lone bogey on a windswept day at Santiburi Samui Country Club.

Maruyama, making his debut at the Queen’s Cup, finished strongly with three straight birdies on his back nine for a 67 and a two-day total of seven-under-par 135.

Local hero Chinnarat Phadungsil, the 2009 Queen’s Cup champion, produced a barnstorming 29 on his homeward nine for a 67 as well to lie one back while countrymen Chawalit Plaphol, winner in Samui in 2006, Somkiat Srisanga, Bangladeshi Siddikur and Finnish rookie Kalle Samooja are a further shot back in the US$300,000 tournament.

Overnight leader Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand slipped three off the pace after struggling to a 73 where he is tied with India’s Anirban Lahiri (72) and Gavin Flint of Australia (71) on 138.

With three recent top-10s including an eighth place in Italy last week, Kruger, currently fourth on the Order of Merit, mastered the swirling winds to give himself a shot at a first career victory in Asia.

“I’m hitting the ball quite nicely. I can play in the wind and that’s probably a big advantage. I made only one mistake on seven, and it wasn’t even a mistake. I just three putted for the only bogey,” said Kruger.

The slightly built South African knows he must stay patient if he is to join the exclusive winner’s club. He was also in the hunt at the ICTSI Philippine Open last month where he finished third.

“Form has been on my side in the last few months. I just need to get the putter more into the hole and I’m going to win. I’m in contention week in and week out and it definitely helps me mentally. The mental side is probably why we play golf and it’s the edge which I’ll find one day,” he said.

Maruyama, 40, turned in one under before reeling in three straight birdies from the 14th hole to tie Kruger. “I made some par saves on the front when it was really windy. I’m happy with the good scoring as it was tough conditions,” said the Japanese, who has won twice on the Asian Tour.

Like Kruger, he arrived on the holiday isle of Samui with some good form after finishing second in the Japan Golf Tour Championship two weeks ago. “It’s a beautiful place here as you get the sea view from the course. But I’ve not seen so much undulation before in my life as there are some drops of 50 yards downhill. I’m enjoying it so far,” said Maruyama.

Chinnarat, Asia’s youngest champion when he won on Tour in 2005 at the age of 17, produced a hot back nine. After turning in 38 which included a double bogey on four, he birdied the 10th, 14th, 15th and 16th holes before closing out in style with an eagle after he rifled a five iron approach to four feet of the flag.

“There wasn’t so much wind on the back nine. At the last hole, I hit a perfect drive and then a good five iron. It was an easy one,” said the 22-year-old Thai, already a three-time winner in Asia.

“This week, it feels different as it’s windy. But I like this course as I’ve been here so many times and I’ve won before as well. I like everything about this place and that’s probably helping me to play good.”

Siddikur, last season’s revelation, continued to show his liking for Santiburi Samui as he moved into contention with a 68. It was at the Queen’s Cup last year that he pulled off his first top-10 before going on to lift the Brunei Open, becoming the first Bangladeshi winner.

“When I started in the afternoon, it was blowing and I dropped two shots in the first three holes. But I stayed confident and got the round together with five birdies. I’m hitting it good and I’m in a good position,”said the 26-year-old, who is currently second on the Order of Merit.

The halfway cut was set at 147 with 67 players progressing into the weekend rounds. Last year’s champion Tetsuji Hiratsuka shot a 70 but is six shots back. –