Friday, February 23, 2024

Kobori clinches rare Aussie Tour hat-trick

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Having had less than his best Saturday, Kobori was almost surprised to still hold a share of the Webex Player Series Sydney lead heading into the final round and steeled himself for a shoot-out that ended with a fairly comfortable trip into the clubhouse and a similarity with a legend of the game for the rising star.

Out in the second to last group alongside compatriot Kerry Mountcastle, Kobori birdied the par-3 2nd as his playing partner made bogey, with Harrison Crowe and Jenny Shin, the other two leaders, failing to convert birdie putts at the opening two holes.

At the uphill par-4 3rd, it was Mountcastle who threw the opening salvo when he holed out for an eagle two from 129 metres and caused Kobori some slight distress.

“It was really good until he just made it on 3. So that got me a bit rattled to say the least, and then it was good early on, because we were kind of trading birdies, he kind of withered away a bit at the end,” Kobori said of his playing partner.

The 22-year-old Kobori nearly had his own moment of magic at the par-3 4th when his bunker shot hit the flag, leaving a tap-in par. The Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia rookie making four birdies in the next five holes to pull in front as the charge of Mountcastle subsided. Crowe’s own push failing to eventuate, while Shin and Tour veteran Brendan Jones emerged as the most likely to spoil Kobori’s hat-trick aspirations.

Turning for the back nine at 23-under, Kobori would make just one more birdie at the par-4 13th but was all but assured of the title when he tapped in for par at the 18th for a final round 66 and a total of 24-under. LPGA Tour winner Shin was the only player left on course with a chance to catch him after birdie at 17, her birdie at the last giving her second alone one back.

“Sounds very good to me,” Kobori said of the three-time Webex Players Series winner moniker. “It was one of those days where early on it just didn’t really click, but I knew if I just stayed patient, things were going to go my way and they did so I am very grateful.”

Kobori is going to need a bigger pool room. PHOTO: Getty Images.

Also grateful was Jones, who despite disappointed not to grab the trophy, believes his game and mind are in a good place for his 2024 season on the Asian Tour.
Finally working out his old home club’s front nine, including five straight birdies before the turn, Jones’ charge was halted by two back nine bogeys and missed birdie chances in just his second tournament after a six week break without touching a club.

“Did what I had to do on the front nine, then made a sloppy bogey on 10,” Jones said during a summation of his final round.

“Overall, two weeks back, 22-under, going to come second or third, that’s a good start.”

Noting her lack of sharpness, Shin was in good spirits as she hastily signed golf balls for some fans before departing for Thailand and the start of her LPGA Tour season. Her double bogey at the par-3 11th a key moment in her eventual second place.

 “It’s not too awful, I obviously didn’t know it was a mixed event with men, so I am pretty happy,” Shin said.

Standing on the putting green watching Shin’s attempt to draw level, Kobori’s celebrations were fairly subdued, perhaps understandably for someone for whom winning has become a recent habit.

The former amateur star excited to learn his third win in his 10th start as a professional means he has the same win record as Tiger Woods at the same stage of his early life as a pro.

“Sounds good,” Kobori smiled. “Probably need to get a few more wins under my belt, to be in the same conversation as that man, but it feels like I am on the right track.”

The other professional track Kobori is following is that of fellow SPORTFIVE managed player David Micheluzzi, who like Kobori skipped chances as Tour schools in favour of chasing a DP World Tour card on his home Tour. A card Kobori is almost guaranteed of locking up from the Order of Merit, where he is currently in second with three cards on offer.

“I made a pretty bold call this year not playing Asian Tour Q School, instead committing to other Tours and stuff, so pretty happy with how it’s going and then get my world ranking up and it would be pretty cool,” said Kobori, who for the second time this year will receive bonus points on the Official World Golf Rankings for multiple wins in one year.

Jenny Shin was happy with her form as she now heads to the LPGA Tour. PHOTO: Getty Images.

More bonus points on offer if he were to become a four-time Webex Players Series winner next week in the Hunter Valley at a tournament his sister, Momoka, lost in a play-off two years ago.

“Four in a row would be good, I will be taking Monday-Tuesday off for sure. I’ll be taking it pretty light, but I don’t think I need to change too much.”

Also winning multiple Webex Players Series titles this year was Cameron Pollard who claimed a second All Abilities title for 2024, the New South Welshman finishing eight-over with an eight-shot advantage over Lochie Smith.

 “I have a lot of fun. Turning up playing golf, what more could you ask for. Winning especially is even better,” he said.

Playing alongside Crowe and Shin in the final group, Royal Canberra’s Harry Whitelock produced a mercurial performance to reach nine-under for two days and an 11-shot win over Rachel Lee in the Junior competition. The 16-year-old smiling ear-to-ear with father and caddie, Steve, after driving the par-4 16th green in front of a large crowd and going one better than last year at Bonnie Doon.

“It was so much fun today, and yesterday. The pros I played with were awesome, they were so accommodating of me and they really looked after me. It was heaps of fun,” the teenager said.


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