Tournament host K.J Choi of Korea proved that he is still the force to be reckoned with as he blitzed through the course to go atop the leaderboard with Chinnarat at 10-under-par through 14 holes when play was halted.
Korea’s Lee Sung battled his way back into contention with a 68 to take a share of third place alongside Canada’s Ryan Yip who posted a 71 after heavy fog had caused two hours of play to be lost at the Haesley Nine Bridges Golf Club in the morning.
Chinnarat, who has been billed as one of the stars to look out for this week, did not disappoint as he went on a birdie blitz to put himself in prime position to end his three-year title drought with his two-day total of 10-under-par 132.
After overcoming an early bogey-five on his opening par-four 10th, Chinnarat played like a man possessed as he ran off three birdies on the 11th, 14th and 15th holes before reaching the turn in 33.
“It was really cold when I started on the first hole. I hit my first shot onto the fairway but hit a bad second shot. I managed to recover quickly by hitting a lot of good shots and I also managed to putt well,” said Chinnarat.
The three-time Asian Tour winner, who became the youngest winner on Tour when he won his first title on home soil at the age of 17 years and five days, had an even more impressive inward-nine when he stormed home with five more birdies.
“I was hitting the ball well yesterday but the greens were just very bumpy in the back-nine and I missed many putts. But today [Friday], I managed to convert most of my chances,” said Chinnarat.
Starting his round five shots back of overnight leader Yip, Choi got off the blocks quickly with four birdies in his opening six holes.
The fast-charging tournament host made the turn in 32 and continued to delight the large galleries following him with another four birdies in his next five holes before darkness fell on the course.
“When I started to warm up in the afternoon, I could sense that my putting was going to work for me today. When I got my first birdie on the opening hole, the confidence started coming back and I had this feeling that I was going to do very well today [Friday],” said the Asian Tour honorary member, who joins the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods as players with their own tournaments.
When asked if the play suspension would be disruptive to his charge, Choi felt it did not really matter as he knows that his good form will not desert him when play resumes.
“It doesn’t really matter. You’ve to play well over four days and not just one day. I’m looking forward to continue my charge tomorrow [Saturday],” said Choi.
Lee, meanwhile was poised to trim Chinnarat’s advantage to just one shot in the morning until a double-bogey on his closing par-four ninth stalled his charge.
After turning in 33, Lee dropped his first shot on the third hole.
He then raced towards the top of the leaderboard with four birdies in five holes starting from the fourth hole until the double-bogey-six slammed the brakes on his charge.
While Yip could not match his opening best of 64, the Canadian is satisfied that he will be among the leaders heading into the weekend rounds at the US$750,000 event which is jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and Korean Golf Tour.
“If you told me at the start of the week that I’ll be in contention and just a couple of shots back, I would have taken it anytime,” said Yip, whose Chinese parents migrated to Canada where he was born and raised.
“I just got to keep doing what I done like in the first round, keep the ball in play and hopefully make some putts over the weekend. That’s what it’s ultimately going to boil down to,”added Yip.
CJ Group, Korea’s food-to-entertainment conglomerate, has a three-year agreement to title sponsor the tournament which will be beamed live on the Asian Tour’s global television platform which reaches over 200 countries and 650 million homes. It will also be broadcast on KBS and J-Golf channel.