Dialled-in Matt Kuchar of the United States put on a masterclass on moving day at the SMBC Singapore Open as he shot a sparkling nine under 62 – the best-ever score on the Serapong course at Sentosa Golf Club – to open up a three-shot lead over defending champion Jazz Janewattananond and Miguel Tabuena heading into the final round on Sunday.
The world number 24 was in imperious form from the start, his opening back-to-back birdies drawing him level with overnight leader Jazz and setting the tone for the rest of the round.
With his drives splitting fairway after fairway and his laser-guided approach shots peppering the flags, the nine-time winner on the PGA Tour carded nine birdies in a flawlesss round which captivated the large galleries.
“It was a great day. Really had a good time – got off to a great start by birdieing the first two holes and continued playing some good steady golf,” said the 41 year old Kuchar, whose score will not count as a course record as preferred lies were in operation.
“(I) took advantage of the par fives again and, yes, it was a great day.
“(The two birdies at the start) really did set the tone for the rest of the round. Back-to-back birdies which got me tied for the lead and just continued to play some good golf.”
Kuchar recorded a three round total of 17 under par 196 to pull away from overnight leader Jazz, who made up for a slow start with four birdies on the back nine to shoot 67, and Tabuena, the Filipino carding a 66 after his second straight bogey-free round.
World number 38 Jazz said that he would give it his best shot to equal Adam Scott’s record of successively defending the Singapore Open title.
“It would be great (to emulate Adam Scott), but Kuchar is in for it right now – (look at) his score today. Let’s see if I can perform my best tomorrow,” said Jazz, who won four times in 2019.
“I am happy with the back nine for sure. A very slow start to the day – on the front nine nothing was really going my way, but I am still happy with 4 under.”
Tabuena said that time spent on the range to improve his driving was paying dividends.
“It was pretty solid, I mean I’ve been hitting the ball great which helps,” said Tabuena, a two-time winner on the Asian Tour who finished fourth in the 2016 SMBC Singapore Open.
“You know whenever I don’t play my best round or good round, it’s because I cannot hit a good shot off the tee, which is my problem. The biggest problem, every time. I worked a bit last week on the range and I found something and I’m sticking to it.
“I’ve been here before (contending for the SMBC Singapore Open). I’m expecting the nerves to be there and I welcome it. You know when you’re playing with nerves that means you are doing the right thing.”
Canada’s Richard T. Lee, whose golf pedigree is unquestioned as his father was a professional and Lee excelled in amateur golf, and teen sensation Joohyung Kim are joint fourth, four shots back.
Both played impressively for 17 holes before hiccups at the par-five final hole, Lee carding a bogey for a 65 and Kim securing a par following a poor drive that ended in the water.
The par save saw him sign for a 67 that kept him in the hunt for a second win on his first season on the Asian Tour after his victory in the Panasonic Open on just his third start.
“That last putt was very important indeed. Just hit one bad drive the whole day I think,” said the 17 year old Kim.
“It came at the wrong time but that putt to save par on the last definitely gives me the momentum for tomorrow.”
Lee said he was happy the way he played in the company of two world stars.
“It was definitely nice playing with Justin Rose and Matt Kuchar today,” said Lee, twice a champion on the Asian Tour.
“I wasn’t really trying to outplay them. I didn’t really notice them too much. I was more worried about myself, you know from shot to shot. I felt like I was sending my shots pretty solid and making lots of the putts.
“I’m just trying to play well and try to get that title,” added the 29 year old who played the US Open aged just 16.
England’s Justin Rose, the highest ranked player in the field at world number 9, did not fire on all cylinders but birdies on the 17th and 18th resulted in a 68 to draw within six shots of Kuchar.
One of the best performances of an amazing day’s golf came from top amateur James Leow of Singapore who lived up to his billing as a player to watch with an assured round of 66 to sit joint 19th.
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, one of the tournament drawcards, had an off day on the greens and his three over 74 saw him slip down to joint 46th.
The SMBC Singapore Open is jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and the Japan Tour with total prize money of US$1 million.