26 Oct 2023 | Amateur golf |
AAC golf: Kobori leads, 2 Aussies in the mix
by Martin Blake
Kazuma Kobori stole the limelight but Australians Billy Dowling and Jasper Stubbs are also in contention after round one of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at Royal Melbourne today.
Kobori, the brilliant 22-year-old Kiwi, shot a stunning 66 despite tough, windy and wet conditions on the composite course to seize a two-shot lead in the tournament.
Winner of the Australian Amateur in Sydney this year and also the leading individual player at the World Amateur Teams Championship in Abu Dhabi last week, the man from Christchurch has his eyes on very big prizes – with a spot in the Masters and the Open Championship as well as the Amateur Championship in 2024 for the winner on Sunday.
He began with a par at his starting hole, the ninth, but then reeled off four straight birdies from 10 to 13 before parachuting in without a single bogey.
When he was threatened, he saved par. The last crucial up-and-down at the par-4 8th, his final hole of the day, saw him match the amateur course record held by Sir Michael Bonnalack, Britain’s most decorated amateur.
A little fist pump there told you that he had achieved something special, and later he said that he had set himself the task of going bogey-free.
“It was a hell of a round,” the Kiwi said. “If you had given me 5-under at the start of the day, I would have taken that in a heartbeat.”
Japanese-born Kobori was one of the favourites this week on the back of his performances – he found himself on the radar when he won a pro tournament, the NZ PGA Championship, aged 17 in 2019 – and his sister Momoka’s prominence as a pro on the Ladies European Tour.
He has said that if he does not win in Melbourne this week he will tee it up as a professional for the first time at the Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia’s Queensland PGA at Nudgee next week. As the winner of Tour School this year he already has status awaiting him.
But he might have some more work to do as an amateur yet.
Kobori’s nearest challengers are South Korea’s Hyun Uk Kim, Melburnian Stubbs and Queenslander Dowling at 3-under.
Stubbs, 21, played an outstanding round in the tougher morning conditions that included a chip-in at the par-4 second hole.
Stubbs had the honour of hitting the first ball of the day off the first tee, a piercing long iron to celebrate his debut in this tournament.
“It was very cold, so I couldn't feel my hands, and my heart rate was just really high up,” he said. “Lucky I got it out of the sweet spot and didn't hit a cameraman while I was at it.”
Stubbs knows his way around RM (although he’s a member at Peninsula Kingswood), having played a lot there with his sister Piper, an RM club champion, and other friends who are members.
His caddie this week, Simon Clarke, knows it even better as a veteran looper for the likes of Aaron Baddeley.
The 18-year-old Dowling, from Surfers Paradise, was a late addition to the field on Monday and had never played Royal Melbourne, but he made the most of it, conjuring a big finish with an eagle at the 17th and a great par-save from the greenside trap at the 18th.
He has had a long stretch of tournaments but the reigning Queensland Amateur champion is loving his Melbourne sandbelt debut.
"I think this is my sixth in a row now, but you can't really say 'no' this week," he said. "If I could choose between playing and not playing, I'd definitely choose playing this tournament."
Queenslander Harry Takis also enjoyed a good day shooting even-par 71 to be inside the top 10.
THE AUSTRALIANS AT THE AAC
(Leader Kazuma Kobori @ 66)
68 Jasper Stubbs, Billy Dowling 71 Harry Takis 73 Lukas Michel, Quinnton Croker, Max Charles, Jeff Guan 74 Connor McDade 76 Jye Pickin 77 Jake Riley, Connor Fewkes
79 Jack Buchanan 80 Harry Bolton
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