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Korea’s Kim moves into joint lead as he eyes birthday bash at Fortinet Championship

IANS | September 16, 2023 10:42 AM

CALIFORNIA: Korea's SH Kim shot a 5-under 67 to earn the joint second round lead at the Fortinet Championship and set himself up for a potential birthday celebration as he chases a maiden PGA TOUR title.

Kim, who will turn 25 on Sunday, earned his career first 36-hole lead/co-lead on the PGA TOUR after compiling six birdies at Silverado Resort’s North Course for a 12-under 132 total, which tied Indian-American Sahith Theegala who fired a spectacular 64.

Compatriot Sangmoon Bae, a two-time PGA TOUR winner, continued his fine run with a 66 to move into solo third, one shot behind the leading duo in the first of seven re-imagined PGA TOUR Fall events.

Making a return to Napa, California where he made his full TOUR debut some 12 months ago, Kim continued to showcase his ball-striking prowess as all his birdies were from within 12 feet. His only blemish came on the par-4 13th hole, his third of the day. However, that did little to deter him from challenging for a career first PGA TOUR victory.

“I started off with a birdie and overall, I'm happy. There were a couple of obstacles at the end, but I'm glad I saved some pars to keep the momentum going. For the weekend, I just want to show some consistency in my game like I did the first two rounds, ” said Kim, whose previous best position through two rounds was tied tie second at the 2021 THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT where he eventually finished T32.

Kim, who’s currently 83rd on the FedExCup rankings, is feeling more at home at Silverado Resort in what is his second trip to Napa and entered the week better prepared. “Definitely feel more comfortable playing the course. Just being prepared for the tournament, and looking forward to the tournament, I feel comfortable knowing I know what the course looks like and how I need to approach it, ” he said.

Theegala, who is fully exempted for 2024 after finishing 31st in the FedExCup Playoffs, is happy that his decision to sign up for the Fortinet Championship is paying off as he chases a first PGA TOUR victory. “I love California events and west coast swings. I love this golf course. This was one of my first sponsor invites I got, and it’s just a great event for all my family and friends to come out to. I guess more importantly, It's just good vibes. It's still a PGA TOUR event with all the perks, and these guys are so good. And to me, honestly, it doesn't feel too much different. I'm such an addict, it's tough for me to sit around and do nothing too. I felt like three weeks was ample break. I was fired up missing East Lake (TOUR Championship) by one, so just kind of wanted to play a tournament ASAP.”

Bae, who won the tournament in 2014, notched seven birdies, including three over the four holes starting from No. 5, to offset a lone bogey. Currently ranked a lowly 222nd in the FedExCup standings, Bae has a chance to take advantage of the revamped PGA TOUR Fall Schedule to secure his TOUR card by being inside the top-125. Of course a victory would make things easier as it comes with a two-year winner’s exemption.

“Always excited to be here, always happy to play here, so nothing special. I was trying to keep playing my golf. Then today was a little windier than yesterday. I struggled with the putting speed on the green, but it was good, ” said Bae. “Not going to change my game plan because today my tee shot was good. I hit almost every fairway. That makes really game easier. So probably tomorrow and Sunday I got to hit the fairway more.”

Bae is looking forward to playing alongside his younger compatriot, the 'good kid' Kim, in the final group out on Saturday. “SH is actually my best friend. He's much younger than me, but he's a really good kid. I'm really excited to play with him, ” he said.

Another Korean star, KH Lee, moved up the leaderboard with a 67 for T11 on 137, improving his position by 24 spots. However, countryman Sung Kang lost ground after a 72, slipping to T19 on 138.

Japan's Satoshi Kodaira shot a 74, making the weekend on the cut line at 3-under 141. Alongside Kodaira, China's Carl Yuan clinched a vital birdie on the final hole for a 69 to also make the halfway cut. China’s Marty Zecheng Dou, along with Kevin Yu and CT Pan from Chinese Taipei and Korea's SY Noh, all failed to progress.

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