SYDNEY, Nov 16 (Reuters) - An Byeong-hun hit a hole-in-one on his way to a three-under-par 69 for a share of a one-stroke lead at the halfway point of the 104th Australian Open on Friday.
Australian Max McArdle joined the South Korean on eight-under late in the day after firing a flawless 66 in almost perfect golfing weather at The Lakes Golf Club.
American Matt Kuchar, who battled wind and rain to post an opening round 70, had earlier made the most of much improved conditions with a 67 to take the early clubhouse lead with amateur David Micheluzzi (69) on seven-under.
Overnight leader An was a late starter and had just got back to within one shot of the lead after a birdie at the 14th when he approached the tee at the 180-metre 15th, a par three.
The 27-year-old selected a seven iron and hit his tee shot high towards flag with the ball landing softly on the front of the green before spinning forward six feet and into the hole.
That gave the former U.S. Amateur champion the lead and he parred the final three holes to remain on track to become the first Asian to lift the famed Stonehaven Cup.
“I hit it good, everything was perfect,” An said of his ace, which he admitted was not his only slice of good fortune.
“I got so lucky this week with a couple breaks here and there, and then especially with the tee time I think I got really lucky.
“It was nice, but I do think I got lucky, and the next two days I think it will be the same for everyone.”
Kuchar was one of the unfortunates who started late on Thursday but he sprayed seven birdies in his round, which would have been even better had he not found the water at the 17th.
“Today felt easy compared to yesterday,” said the world number 29, the highest-ranked player in the field and the winner of last weekend’s Mayakoba Classic.
“To end up under par yesterday I thought was a great score, that certainly helped with getting me in good position to have a nice day today.”
Australian Jake McLeod (67) later joined Kuchar and Micheluzzi in a share of third place on seven-under.
Keegan Bradley, playing the back nine first, went one better than his compatriot Kuchar with a blemish-free 66 that he sealed with his fifth and sixth birdies at his last two holes.
Bradley shared sixth place on six-under with Mexican Abraham Ancer (69), Japanese amateur Keita Nakajima and four Australians.
Having begun his opening round by dropping seven shots in three holes, defending champion Cameron Davis again endured a nightmare start with a triple bogey after finding the water at his second hole on Friday.
The 23-year-old recovered well with four birdies and an eagle to post a 69 and stood only nine shots off the pace at one -over, along with Cameron Smith (71), the highest ranking Australian in the field, and American Brandt Snedeker (72). (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O’Brien)