Torque GC's David Puig put himself in the perfect position to try and win his first title as a professional when he opened up a three-shot lead at the halfway point of the St Andrews Bay Championship – the sixth International Series event of the season on the Asian Tour.
The 21-year-old, a professional since last September, shot a spectacular 8-under 64 – the lowest round of the week so far – to reach 14 under, with South African Jaco Ahlers in second place, following a 67.
Australians Matt Jones (65) and Andrew Dodt (68), Eugenio Chacarra (66) from Spain, England’s James Wilson (66), American Micah Lauren Shin (67), Korean Seungtaek Lee (67) and Chile’s Mito Pereira (68) are in a tie for third, four behind Puig.
Players took advantage of the bright and calm conditions at Fairmont St Andrews, where the Torrance Course is being used, to shoot low scores, with Puig once again excelling, making nine birdies, to go with the 10 he made yesterday.
Six of those birdies today came on the back nine, including the last four.
“Played pretty good again,” said Puig.
“Didn't start that good on the first five holes swing wise, but yeah, after number five, the par- three, I think I played very well and hit it very good off the tee. And almost made every putt I needed to make, so yeah, I'm very happy with my game.”
He’s come close to winning before on the Asian Tour, at last year’s International Series Morocco, where he was third, and last week’s International Series England, where he tied for fourth.
He has, however, enjoyed phenomenal team success on the LIV Golf League this season, winning four team titles with Torque GC – the franchise also consisting of captain Joaquin Niemann and Pereira.
Puig says he his reaping the rewards of many hours of practice and preparation.
“Off the tee I got a lot better for sure. I got longer and straighter with pretty much every club, which obviously helps a ton especially on courses like this one where you need to get to fairways,” he said,
“I would say because of focusing too much on that, maybe I am not that good, or as good as I want to be, or as good as I was with the wedges, but it's a work in progress. I know it's the best part of my game, it just didn't show up yet the way I want it. But yeah, I mean working with Dave Phillips, who is my coach, we've been working hard, swing wise, setup wise and also in the gym, so very, very happy with the improvement.”
Ahlers could have finished closer to Puig but missed opportunities over the closing stages.
He said: “Yeah, it was good, just finished a little weak I would say. I missed two four footers on 15 and 16 for birdie and then didn’t birdie 18, but all in all it was good.
“Ball striking has been good for a few weeks, just the putting was bad last week. The balls are rolling great on these greens, and I have started seeing the lines better and made a few nice putts.”
Pereira, who started the day in a share of the lead with five others, is the highest ranked player in the field on the Official World Golf Ranking, in 72nd place, and looks to be in fine form this week. His low-ball flight suits windy conditions which has not been a factor yet but maybe at the weekend.
“Yeah, today there was no wind at all, yesterday was a little bit more windy, but nothing crazy. But today was definitely easier,” said the 28-year-old, who came agonizingly close to winning his first Major last year when he had a one-shot lead playing the final hole at the PGA Championship but made a double and tied for third – missing out on a sudden-death playoff that saw American Justin Thomas beat his compatriot Will Zalatoris.
“I played solid, a solid round, just missed a couple of putts that could have could have been birdie, but really solid overall, I mean just one bogey. Pretty much all day in the fairways, greens, so happy with the round.”
Korean-American Shin caught the eye with a tremendous finish. He made the turn in three under but undid all the good work with a triple-bogey on the par-three 11th before he birdied five out of the last seven.
“I’ve been putting well this week,” said Shin, whose ball landed in thick rough on 11 from where he took three to get out.
“To be honest my back is not too good right now, so I was actually not expecting myself to be in this position. Plus, I’m not actually hitting it that well, but I’m managing to get my job done.”
He has won once before on the Asian Tour, at the Resorts World Manila Masters in 2017 – where he defeated Arnond Vongvanij of Thailand in extra-time, having called a ruling on himself in the final round which meant he was penalised two strokes for having 15 clubs in his bag.
Further down the field Thailand’s amateur star Ratchanon 'TK' Chantananuwat, who made it through to the semi-finals of the Amateur Championship in June, returned his second successive 70 and is four under.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia added a 69 to his disappointing first round 77 to sit at two over, meaning he will not be playing at the weekend. The cut was made at three under.
Photo credit: Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour