SHANGHAI : Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Australia's Scott Hend, ranked first and second respectively on the Asian Tour Order of Merit stayed close to first round leader Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland after they returned with matching three-under-par 69s to take a share of eighth place at the US$8.5 million WGC-HSBC Champions yesterday.
Kiradech, rated as one of Asia's most exciting prospects to emerge in recent years, could have stolen the show by taking the lead if not for two costly double-bogeys on holes four and 15.
"It was a good start again today. I'm really happy with the seven birdies and I managed to hole a lot of putts. The biggest mistakes I made were on the fourth where I hit a very poor drive and on 15th, I had a bad lie and made a double-bogey there again. But overall, I'm still happy with the way I started," said Kiradech, who trails McIlroy by four shots.
Fresh off a tied-third finish in Malaysia last week, Kiradech's stunning form showed no signs of waning and he is confident of putting up another superlative performance against the world's best players at Sheshan International Golf Club.
"I think I have a good chance of finishing high again this week as Ive lots of confidence from last week and I'm striking the ball really well right now," he said.
Meanwhile Hend is also looking to extend his winning run with the help of his trusted caddie Tony Carolan, a former Asian Tour player.
"My partnership with Tony is and will always be fantastic! It's going to be a sad day for me when he goes back to playing himself," said Hend, who will be seeking a return to playing on the Asian Tour at Qualifying School next year.
Having started the year in 262nd place on the official world rankings, Hend has soared up the rankings to 135th place, thanks largely to his treble of victories in Thailand, Taiwan and Macau on the region's premier Tour this season.
Hend believes a fourth win in Shanghai is still a huge possibility if he continues to take advantage of the 7,266-yard par 72 course with his big drives.
"This year is obviously going to be a little different because they renovated the course and the fairways are quite soft at the moment and so the ball is not going to travel very far at all," said Hend.
"But having said that, if you can hit your driver pretty far and get the ball onto the fairways, it will make it a lot easier to try and make birdies," added Hend.
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