S. Korean An Byeong-hun stays in contention for 1st PGA title at home

October 18, 2019

 Local hero An Byeong-hun remained firmly in contention for his first career PGA Tour victory on home soil Friday.

An scored a three-under 69 in the second round of the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges on Jeju Island on Friday, reaching 11-under midway through the no-cut tournament. The 28-year-old is tied for second with Danny Lee of New Zealand, two behind the leader, Justin Thomas.

The CJ Cup is the only PGA Tour event held in South Korea each fall. The US$9.75 million tournament is played at the 7,241-yard Club at Nine Bridges.

An, the 2015 European Tour Rookie of the Year, is seeking his first PGA title. After taking the first-round lead with a bogey-free 64 on Thursday, An opened the second round with a bogey at the 10th, his first hole of the day.

He bounced back with a birdie at the 12th and reeled off four straight birdies starting at the 17th, which gave him a three-shot cushion over the field.

But the birdie at the second was An’s last one of the day. He bogeyed the long par-4 sixth after missing the fairway to the left with his drive and leaving his second shot well short of the hole.

“The wind picked up later in the day, and it became difficult to hit it close to the pins,” An said. “I hit the ball solidly. You can’t score well every day. I think I did okay shooting three-under on a day like this, and hopefully I’ll give myself an opportunity on the weekend.”

He said his putter did all the work during his barrage of four straight birdies.

“I don’t think this course favors one particular type of player,” An added. “You have to have a well-rounded game to post good scores here, and it’s tough to win here otherwise.”

South Koreans on the PGA Tour kept themselves near the top of the leaderboard. Lee Kyoung-hoon followed his 69 with a bogey-free 67, which put him in a three-way tie for sixth at eight-under. Two-time PGA Tour winner Kim Si-woo shot 68 on Friday, one better than Thursday, to move to seven-under, tying him for ninth with two others.

Kim, who started on the back nine, had four birdies over his first nine holes, but traded three birdies with three bogeys on his last nine.

“I played well on the first nine, and then I tried to do too much on the back nine,” Kim said.

Japan-based South Korean player Hwang Jung-gon shot a 71 on Friday, with three birdies against two bogeys. He posted a 67 on Thursday, the best score by non-PGA South Korean players, but Hwang said his putter deserted him in the second round.

“The direction of the wind was tough to read, and I had trouble controlling distance of my shots,” Hwang said. “But I didn’t get into any huge trouble because I tried to play it safe. Putting made the difference.”

Hwang said he has been to a handful of PGA Tour events before and this is the first time he’s got into contention.

“I’ll try to learn from this experience, and to play my game and not get too nervous,” the 27-year-old said. “It’d be great if I can finish in the top 10.”

For Jeju Island’s own Im Sung-jae, the reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, Friday was a tale of two different rounds.

After starting at the 10th hole with a bogey, Im had four birdies on his front nine. But on the back stretch, he went bogey-bogey-double bogey from third to fifth to take himself out of contention.

“I had a relatively easy time on my first nine holes, but when the wind picked up a bit later, I made a lot of mistakes,” Im said. “I was able to attack the pins early but I had trouble hitting into a headwind.”