Njoroge Kibugu restored respect for Kenya’s golf after a flawless five under 66 second round on a catastrophic day that saw 15 local players ejected from the Magical Kenya Open at Muthaiga Golf Club.
Despite a jittery start in the opening three holes, the youngster charged up to position five on the leaderboard as a bogey-free round headlined by a priceless eagle on the par-5 number 18 and three birdies on the 4th, 9th and 17th saw the 18-year old announce his arrival on the intimidating DP World Tour stage.
Kibugu would have posted an even better score if he had been accurate with approach shots. The Muthaiga Golf Club player only hit eight greens on regulation but his sharp short game and incredible putting bailed him out all day long.
“I had a lot of fun on the course today just taking it easy. Playing in the morning was great as it was not windy though the greens were still quite fast. My game plan coming into this competition was to try and be in contention and I am greatful to be in this position after two tough rounds,” said Kibugu.
He will start tomorrow’s round four shots off the pace after Shubhankar Sharma seized the leadership after carding four under 67 today for a gross of -10. An eagle on the par-5 18th was the icing on the cake after the pro from India picked four birdies on the front nine to make up for two bogeys on number four and 14.
“It was quite a slow start for me starting on the back nine, not much was happening, but that eagle on the 18th really propelled me. Personally I’ve done well whenever I play at altitude. I think the ball is flying about 15% longer than it does at sea level and it’s been pretty consistent. I’m very comfortable out there. My first win came in Joburg which was also at altitude so I have good memories from playing at places where the golf course is at a height and that is definitely helping,” said Sharma.
Japan’s Mashahiro Kawamura and Englishman Ewen Ferguson are joint second on -9 gross. Kawamura produced a bogey-free five under par 66 with two birdies on the front nine to move up four places. Fergusson’s -4 round today was enough to keep him in contention.
Said Fergusson: “I’m really happy. After getting Covid-19 a couple of years ago and not feeling my best out on the course, I went home and practiced, did some work with my coach, did some work in the gym and went to Dubai a few days early and worked on my swing. It has felt good the last few days so I’m happy with where I’m at. But there’s so much golf to be played and I’m just happy to be in the right frame of mind and playing nicely, so we’ll try and keep it going.”
Round one leader Daniel Gavins failed to build on his lead after carding two over 73 today to drop nine place down the leaderboard. After a bright start with a birdie on the opening hole, Gavins dropped four shots on the front nine including back-to-back bogeys on number eight and nine. A birdie on number 10 resuscitated hopes of recovery but the Englishman bogeyed number 14 to jeopardize his quest for a second win on the DP World Tour.
Defending champion Justin Harding dropped further down the leaderboard after a conservative one under 70 round left him in position T16 on four under gross. Another past champion Guido Migliozzi wasn’t lucky this time as he exited the competition early after he shot par today for +5 gross.
Just like last year when only one local player made the cut at Karen, Safari Tour qualifiers failed to take the game to the visiting pros. Malawi’s Paul Chidale failed to build on his eye-catching -3 opening round as he shot a disastrous +6 today to take an early flight home. Greg Snow and Robson Chinhoi, on even par yesterday, also exited on +5 and +3 respectively. The best placed local player after Kibugu was Samuel Njoroge who finished T83 on +2 gross.
Young Kibugu will be carrying the hopes of an expectant nation this weekend as he seeks to become the first amateur to win the Kenya Open title.
DAY TWO LEADERBOARD
S Sharma -10
M Kawamura -9
E Ferguson -9
T Lawrence -7
N Kibugu -6
H Long -6
D Burmester -6
J Svensson -6
A Hidalgo -6
H Du Plessis -5
M Pavon -5
A Wu -5
D Gavins -5
J Schaper -5
D van Tonder -5