Jeremiah edges three clear of the field

Arep Kulal (filepix)

KUALA LUMPUR: A flawless three-under-par 68 saw Kim Leunkwang pull three shots clear of the pack at the halfway stage of the CIMB National Championship at TPC Kuala Lumpur’s East Course on Wednesday.

Starting from the 10th tee, the 23-year-old Kim made birdies on the 16th, 18th and fourth holes to take a giant step closer towards his dream of winning a first professional title and also a spot in the US$7 million CIMB Classic.

Overnight leader Sukree Othman shot a 72 to fall into a tie for second place alongside Amir Nazrin Jailani (71), veteran Nachimuthu Ramasamy (71) and Kenneth De Silva, who produced the day’s best of 66 in the RM200,000 event.

Kim turned professional at the age of 17 and is keen to secure a career breakthrough at the CIMB National Championship.

“It was good … my game was steady and I hit a lot of fairways and greens. It was totally different from yesterday where I made nine birdies but had a few hiccups. It was a different game today as I hit it good and made some good putts,” said Kim, who leads on seven-under-par 135.

“A win will mean the world but I don’t want to look that far ahead yet. I’ve played well on this course, finished third here two years in a local event. I just feel comfortable as the course fits my eye. I’ve led a few times this year and didn’t get it done. It’ll be important to just keep breathing and stay calm.”

Leading second round scores (Par-71)
135 – Jeremiah Kim Leunkwang 67-68
138 – Sukree Othman 66-72, Amir Nazrin Jailani 67-71, Nachimuthu Ramasamy 67-71, Kenneth De Silva 72-66
141 – Alex Tiong 67-74, Iran Yusoff 73-68, Sasidaran Muthiah 72-69
142 – Akhmal Tarmizee Nazari 70-72, Kenneth Tobuse 69-73, Shahriffuddin Ariffin 71-71
143 – Wafiyuddin Abdul Manaf 71-72

Sukree traded three bogeys against four bogeys, including three over his closing four holes which left a bitter taste.

“It was a disappointing finish. I was quite steady until the last few holes and then I just hit some bad shots. I’m three back now, and it’ll be important to stay in it and not be too far behind going into the last day. I’ll work on my short game including my putting later as I missed a few makeable putts,” said the 42-year-old, who is aiming to qualify for his first CIMB Classic.

The upcoming Amir was three-over through 14 holes before fighting back with birdies on the sixth, seventh and eighth holes to salvage his round. “It’s a good comeback. I had a rough start and made silly mistakes. I just told myself to not give up and I’m happy to birdie three straight holes. I’ll settle for even par,” said the 21-year-old.

De Silva charged home in 30, which included a 20-foot birdie on his penultimate hole, to move into contention. The 27-year-old, who has two career wins locally, finished second in this event behind Ben Leong three years ago.

“I holed a few good ones on the back nine. Obviously happy with how I played as I’m now back in the tournament. Getting into the CIMB Classic … that’s my dream. This is the fastest route to play with the PGA Tour stars,” he said.

The winner of the CIMB National Championship will have the opportunity to face PGA Tour stars including 2017 FedExCup champion Justin Thomas, CIMB Classic defending champion Pat Perez, Keegan Bradley, Ryder Cup star Paul Casey, Japanese ace Hideki Matsuyama, 2017 Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele and World Golf Hall of Fame members, Ernie Els and Davis Love III.

The CIMB Classic will be held at TPC Kuala Lumpur’s West Course from October 11 to 14, where it is the second leg of the 2018-19 PGA TOUR season.