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Mexico: Kiradech fights to stay in top-10

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Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat overcame a rocky four-putt double bogey start on Friday to remain in the top-10 at the halfway stage of the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship.

Kiradech showed great resolve at Club de Golf Chapultepec as he bounced back from his horror opening hole to sign for a second round two-under 69 for T8 position on five-under 137, six shots behind new leader Dustin Johnson.

 

Starting his day from the 10th tee, the 29-year-old Thai, who finished T5 here last year, fought back with a 14-foot birdie on 11 before enjoying three consecutive birdies at the turn, culminating with a 26-feet curler on the third hole. Kiradech three-putted from eight feet for bogey on seven but regained the shot with a 19-foot birdie putt at the next hole.

Japan’s Shugo Imahira carded a 67 to move up to T20 on 140 while China’s Haotong Li traded three birdies against four bogeys en route to a 72 to lie a further stroke back in T25 heading into the weekend. Young Indian Shubhankar Sharma, T9 last year, endured a disappointing 77 for T58.

Asia’s hopes in the US$10.25 million showpiece in Mexico City lies with Kiradech, who is the first Thai golfer to earn a PGA TOUR card. He was happy to stay on the fringe of contention as he attempts to become only the second Asian golfer after Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama to win a World Golf Championships event.

“It changed at the turn. Those three birdies got me back into the game. That putt (on three) was a great putt. That putt was amazing,” said Kiradech.

The four-time European Tour winner knows he must negotiate the tricky putting surfaces better over the weekend to make a title run. “I’ve been striking the ball solid the whole week but my putting isn’t working great. I dropped five shots in the first two rounds, which is from three three-putts and then one four-putt. I have to work on my putting, just a lot of work to do,” he said.

“I find it really difficult. A lot of pin positions were tough, against the slope. I know the green speed is not that fast. A lot of positions was right on top of the slope, so it was quite tough to read.”

His T8 position after two rounds, which is his best so far this year, has raised his confidence considerably after arriving in Mexico City on the back of three missed cuts in his last four starts.

“It means a lot, especially when I’m not playing well. I haven't started good this year. I took a lot of time off from golf (six weeks at the end of the year), and not hitting enough balls. I’ve been working with my coach, Mike Walker, the last couple weeks, hitting a lot of balls. I feel like my game is getting back on the road again. All I need to do is to just roll the ball into the hole.”

Johnson, chasing a sixth World Golf Championships title, carded a 67 to take a two-shot lead over first round leader Rory McIlroy and Matt Kuchar while Tiger Woods, making his debut in the event, shot a 66 to move to T8 alongside Kiradech. Defending champion Phil Mickelson, who opened with a 79 on Thursday, improved by an amazing 14 shots with a second round 65 for T39, 13 shots behind the new leader.