Scott Hend and Kalle Samooja moved into a share of the lead at the Magical Kenya Open presented by Johnnie Walker, with a packed leaderboard setting up an exciting weekend.
The short and tricky nature of Karen Country Club has resulted in a tightly bunched field after the opening two rounds, but Australian Hend and Finland’s Samooja did enough to edge one shot ahead of the rest on 11 under par.
Three-time European Tour winner Hend dropped shot at the last to miss out on the outright lead but a seven under par round of 64 underlined a return to form after three successive missed cuts.
Samooja, meanwhile, birdied his final hole – the ninth – for a five under par 66, the 33-year-old chasing a maiden European Tour victory at an event which has yielded good results in the past – he finished tied for sixth at Karen two years ago while he also earned a top three on the Challenge Tour at this event in 2018, at Muthaiga Country Club.
Scots Richie Ramsay and Connor Syme share third place with Dean Burmester of South Africa on 10 under par, with 38 more players within six shots of the lead heading into the final two days in Nairobi.
Scott Hend: “I played quite solid, hit a lot of the par fours and par fives in regulation so I had some tap in birdies. I’ve been a little inconsistent and it’s a little bit tricky out there so obviously I shot a good score but I missed a lot of putts so hopefully I can improve on that at the weekend.
I’ll take what I get though, I’ve been playing terrible golf so far this year so it’s starting to turn around. I’ve just been driving it a bit better, putting a bit better. I’ve got a new set of irons in the bag from Titleist so it’s a combination of everything and hopefully the melon gets back on the shoulders and I can start going forward instead of losing it off in the trees.
I don’t think the wind affects it that much here because you’re at so much altitude, it’s like Joburg or Crans, unless it’s blowing 40 you really don’t’ pay too much attention to it, so if it’s coming off the left you maybe take it a couple of metres left, instead of ten metres. The ball cuts through the air quite a lot here so it’s not really a big challenge.”
Kalle Samooja: “I got off to a flying start, opening with three birdies, and then I was struggling a little bit to get quality shots. I don’t know why but I played the sixth hole really badly. It was just a bit of back luck from the rough and then a bit unlucky with the second shot, coming back into the bunker and then I struggled with the short game.
“Then a huge bonus at seven from the front of the green, I don’t know how long it was – 50 metres, maybe more – for an eagle and then a good birdie at the last so I’m really happy with how I finished the round today. A birdie would have been good enough on seven but eagle gave me a bit of a boost for those last two holes.”
Dean Burmester: “I think I’m very fortunate around here, a lot of guys are hitting drivers and three woods and I’m just hitting two iron everywhere, and that’s my favourite club in the bag. I was ecstatic when I pitched up here on Tuesday and saw the golf course. So far it’s going well, new putter is working also. (Off the seventh) I hit two iron to the front edge today.
“If you can get on a hot streak, as long as you keep it on the fairway and in play you are going to have a lot of chances. If you’re holing putts here and there it’s easy to put in a low one. If you keep the runs going and score on the scoreable holes, you’re going to do well around here.
“It definitely reminds me of (Harare Country Club). My mom has played well there, and won numerous tournaments around there. I was lucky enough to win there in 2015, the Zim Open. Being born there, that was awesome. The only difference is this is probably slightly flatter around the greens. Lots of irons and three woods off the tee there, and pure greens like we have here. It’s exciting and I can’t wait for the weekend.”
Connor Syme: “It was a difficult lie in the bunker on the final hole there, I couldn’t get set to be honest – it was right in the side. I thought I was going to have to put one foot out and one foot in but as I got over it I felt I could do it. I was so close to it, I was trying to just keep my balance because I felt my left foot could have slipped.
I was just happy to make decent contact and to see it roll up nicely there was a little bonus. It probably wasn’t quite as good as yesterday to be honest, the wind it definitely up a little bit more. It could have probably been a bit better to start with but I made a sloppy bogey on the par three.
But to be honest, chatting with my caddie, it’s so easy to do that out here. We’re obviously at such high altitude and you we’ve been good with our distances but you can off and sometimes bogey isn’t a disaster but I’m very happy, it was a strong finish, so I was happy to post 67.”
Richie Ramsay: “It went great from the start, I just laid up from the tee on ten, then hit a lovely sand wedge and spun it back into the hole. To start with a two is a great feel-good factor. Then to birdie the next two you feel like there’s a low one coming.
“I reeled off a few nice pars and continued it on the front nine. The best thing about it was my daughter wanted an eagle or a hole in one, so I know when she’ll see the scorecard and see the eagle she’ll be delighted.
“It’s right up my street (the course). There’s a breeze that comes across the course, you have to shape the ball both ways. With it playing firm and fast, there’s a Scott Hhuge amount of options off the tee. I’m a straight driver so it feels like it gives me an advantage.
“I’ve just got to keep playing the way I’m playing. My game feels really good after probably losing the technical side a little bit, I feel like I’ve got that back and have more control of my ball – around here that’s something you definitely need.”