Kalle Samooja and Scott Hend take charge in the Kenya Open

Kalle Samooja shot a five-under 66 to gain a share of the lead with Scott Hend. Gaganjeet Bhullar was safely through to the weekend but Shubhankar Sharma and SSP Chawrasia missed out

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Kalle Samooja - European Tour

19 March 2021: Kalle Samooja continued his good recent form to take a share of the halfway lead at the 2021 Magical Kenya Open presented by Johnnie Walker. The Finn has had three top ten finishes in his last ten European Tour starts and a five under par 66 at Karen Country Club leaves him alongside Australia’s Scott Hend on 11 under par heading into the weekend.

Gaganjeet Bhullar made four birdies in working up an eventful 72, but he conceded five bogeys to slip well outside his overnight perch inside the top ten.  Shubhankar Sharma and SSP Chawrasia missed the cut. The former made one-under 70 but it wasn’t enough to get on the good side of the blade. Chawrasia made a 72 and he was one behind Sharma as both men miss out on the weekend action.

Since graduating from the Challenge Tour ahead of the 2019 season, Samooja has impressed with two runner-up finishes on the European Tour, and will now look to secure a first win at this level.

Starting on the back nine, Samooja began with a hat-trick of birdies before dropping a shot on the 15th.

A gain at the 17th was handed back at the next, as was a birdie on the fifth from close range.

However, Samooja eagled the drivable seventh and produced a closing birdie on the ninth for good measure.

“I got off to a flying start, opening with three birdies, and then I was struggling a little bit to get quality shots,” said Samooja. “I don’t know why but I played the sixth hole really badly. It was just a bit of bad 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.

“My caddie tried to keep me in the moment and it’s only about that, because the altitude makes it tough to find the right yardages and it’s just finding the right number and the right club. So you just have to be mentally there all the time and some mental errors, you make bogey easier. You have to be in the present all the time and he helps me with that.”

In stark contrast to Samooja, 47-year-old Hend came into the week having missed seven cuts in his last eight events but a joint best of the week 64 moved him into contention for a fourth European Tour title.

Hend looked like snatching the outright lead when he made his eighth birdie of the day on the 17th, but, like Samooja, he bogeyed the last.

Scott Hend - European Tour
Scott Hend – European Tour

 “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.” 

Scottish pair Connor Syme and Richie Ramsay share third on ten under with South African Dean Burmester, with the latter’s compatriot Justin Harding, Scotland’s Calum Hill, American Kurt Kitayama and France’s Raphaël Jacquelin on nine under.