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Golf-Korean Bae draws on Match Play memories at Riviera
PACIFIC PALISADES, California |
PACIFIC PALISADES, California Feb 15 (Reuters) - Twelve months ago, South Korean Bae Sang-moon made himself known to American golf fans with a storming run to the quarter-finals of the elite WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson.
This week at Riviera Country Club, he has given Los Angeles spectators a taste of his all-round skills by surging to the top of the second-round leaderboard at the Northern Trust Open.
Playing only his second season on the PGA Tour, Bae has strung together rounds of three-under-par 68 and 65 on one of the most challenging layouts on the U.S. circuit to stay on track for a maiden title.
An 11-time champion on various professional tours in his native Asia, Bae readily admits he gained a huge confidence boost on U.S. soil with his form at last year's Match Play where he eventually lost 3&2 to Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy.
"I played it really well, the Match Play," Bae, 26, told reporters after posting a nine-under total of 133 at Riviera after a glorious sun-splashed morning at Riviera. "I won three times but then I lost to McIlroy.
"He played really well, but he's No. 1 in the world right now. But I had great confidence after that."
Bae, who topped the 2011 Japan Golf Tour order of merit after winning three times, reached the last eight of the Match Play by beating players such as 2010 winner Ian Poulter and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.
Losing to McIlroy, then the world number two, was hardly a surprise and Bae knows full well the size of the challenge facing him as he bids to land his first PGA Tour title.
"There are many good players on the PGA Tour so it's very competitive," the Korean smiled. "It's a good experience for me and I will just play my game. My goal is to win, but you know, that's not easy."
Bae, whose closest call on the U.S. circuit came when he lost out in a four-way playoff for last year's Transitions Championship, has also learned much about PGA Tour golf from his more experienced compatriots, K.J. Choi and Yang Yong-eun.
"K.J. Choi and Y.E. Yang have played very well over here," said Bae, who has made all four cuts in his four starts on the 2013 PGA Tour with a best finish of joint 27th at the Humana Challenge.
"K.J. has won eight times on the PGA Tour so I respect him. At the same time, I have learned a lot from him about bunker shots, short game and course management, everything.
"I'm leading early in this tournament now, and it really means a lot. I've only been playing two years on the PGA Tour. I will do my best tomorrow and Sunday." (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)
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