It was another day full of birdies at Castle Hill Country Club, as players threatened the 60 mark, but yet again it was the winner of the two previous 2024 Webex Players Series events, Kazuma Kobori, who will enter the weekend on top in Sydney.
After closing his opening round with seven straight birdies, the Kiwi was straight back into it with an eagle at the 1st hole on Friday. Kobori adding six more birdies to sign for a 64 and 15-under total.
The 22-year-old one clear of Kerry Mountcastle (65), Jenny Shin (67) and James Gibellini who had the round of the day, a 10-under 62, to make it a trio at 14-under.
“It was probably a better round of golf to be honest,” Kobori said.
“I stayed pretty patient for the most part out there, probably didn’t putt as good as yesterday on the stat sheet, but struck the ball really good. For most part had a pretty stress free round of golf.”
To watch the now three-time Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia winner go about his business of late has been something of a putting clinic, with Kobori believing his work with the flatstick could prove an advantage over the weekend.
A weekend when a shoot-out is anticipated on a layout Kobori fell in love with the moment he entered the gates.
“I really enjoy this course,” he said. “I walked up to the course I think it was Tuesday morning and you get courses where you just walk up and go ‘Okay, I kind of like this place’.”
Shin certainly had different feelings given she was unaware the Webex Players Series Sydney was a mixed event as she looks to prepare for her season on the LPGA Tour.
However, she was far more at ease in the format on Friday, even if she made her first bogeys of the week after what she described as a “brain fart” at 13.
“Way better, felt like riding a bike, I kind of knew exactly what to expect, which is why I think I started off pretty well,” Shin said comparing her 1st tee nerves from Thursday.
The Korean LPGA Tour winner chasing her first trophy since 2016 on Saturday and Sunday.
“I think a win is a win, and I’ve not won anything since 2016, so I don’t think it matters where I am, a win is always going to feel like the biggest accomplishment,” she said.
Mountcastle has far more recent memories of a win after his triumph late last year at the Gippsland Super 6.
“In a way it might have hindered me in terms of raising expectations, but then it also you know that you can go out and win,” Mountcastle reflected.
“It means that my good golf is good enough, it’s just being able to do it a bit more often.”
Gibellini’s expectations were also in an interesting place entering the week, having started 2024 with an optimistic mindset.
Missing the cut in two of three starts, Gibellini found magic on his back nine with five birdies in his last six holes for a career best 62 and share of second. A score perhaps more surprising given he is sleeping on the floor of a room packed with taxidermy.
“If you look at Vic Open, I think I was third last, so I was kind of a bit worried that I thought my game was good after Christmas, but I was bit worried. But this has shored it up a bit,” Gibellini said.
“I just thought, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, keep giving yourself chances’. Never really tried to push.”
Perhaps less surprising was Justin Warren nearly matching the low round of the week. The New South Welshman signing for 63 after his birdie chip at his final hole of the day, the 9th, hit the pin and failed to drop and denied him a third 62 of the year.
Overnight co-leader Josh Armstrong is alongside Warren in a tie for fifth on 13-under, with home hope Daniel Gale lurking another shot back.
The low scores of the first two days giving the remainder of the chasing pack plenty of hope including Andrew Evans, Lincoln Tighe and Jeffrey Guan on 11-under, while Harrison Crowe was left with the unusual feeling of disappointment after an eight-under where he missed chances on his last five holes to sit in a six player group on 10-under that includes Kotono Fuyaka from Japan.