The race for the second amateur players’ ticket to Magical Kenya Open started taking shape today as tournament favourites Adel Balala and Jay Sandhu firmly established themselves on top of the leaderboard during the second day of the ongoing Kenya Amateur Stroke Play championship.
It was a see-saw affair between the two as they swapped leadership today, Nyali Club’s Balala toppling Sandhu after carding level par 72 today, two shots better than yesterday’s opening round. Playing at home, Sandhu was relegated to the second position after shooting three over par 75, three worse than the opening round.
The two prepared for the championship in contrasting styles with Balala having a go at last week’s Safari Tour at Royal where he finished in a respectable 12th position while Sandhu’s last notable outing was a second finish at the Kenya Amateur Matchplay championship in September. “I really put in a lot of work ahead of this event. I am so glad it’s paying off. Over the last two days, everything has gone very well for me. I am hoping to carry this form to the closing rounds and qualify for Kenya Open for the first time,” said Balala.
He will have to be at his level best in the next two days to contend with the experienced Sandhu, who has played in the Kenya Open twice as the top-ranked amateur. Boasting immense experience, thanks to a stint on the US college golf circuit, Sandhu is making a steady comeback after a long layoff. “My game is pretty solid even though I have not had very competitive rounds of golf coming to this championship. My putting and iron play are very good, I just need drive a bit better,” Sandhu said.
Another player billed to win the championship is Muthaiga Golf Club’s Mutahi Kibugu. Though still a junior player, Mutahi is highly experienced having played for the Kenya team over the last two years. International exposure aside, the handicap 2 golfer has also had a relatively good run on the Safari Tour. He was eliminated at the quarter final stage in last month’s Matchplay championship so a lot is being expected of him. Nevertheless, he has been slow off the blocks closing day one in position 10 before moving three places up today after a round of four over par 76, one shot better than the opening round to stay in contention. “I am striking the ball very well but I have been so poor on the greens to an extent I three-putted on five holes! I know that I am seven shots behind the leader, but this is surmountable. I just hope my putter will respond in the remaining rounds,” said Kibugu, who registered two birdies in today’s round.
Also charging fast up the leaderboard is Dennis Maara, whose decent score of one under par 71 today saw him move up to 3rd position from 11th yesterday. Maara is the only player to return an under par score over the two days. Also enjoying a fine run of form is home player Kevin Juma and exciting junior star Taimur Malik who are joined in the top 10 positions by Railway’s long-hitter Kamenchu and another homeboy Quram Bhatti.
45 players were given the green light to proceed to the final two rounds after meeting the +27 cut mark. Though currently not featuring among the leading players, several highly experienced players may still cause ripples in the remaining rounds. These include Peter Rimui, Paul Muchangi, John Lejirma and Simon Njogu. The 72-hole event which attracted 96 top amateurs, will end on Saturday.
Aggregated Gross Scores
- Balala +2
J. Sandhu +3
D. Maara +4
K. Juma +6
T. Malik +7
M. Kibugu +9
Q. Bhatti +9
S. Karari +11
J. Kamenchu +11
S. Njogu +12