Ellis, Kim share lead in Pearl Open
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
'AIEA John Ellis has conquered the Canadian Tour and come painfully close to winning the Hawai'i Pearl Open the past two years. Hyung Sung Kim has won three times on the Korean Tour and is making his Pearl debut. Everybody else is chasing them going into today's final round.
Kim, a 29-year-old from Pusan, South Korea, shared low-round honors after shooting 7-under-par 65 in yesterday's second round at Pearl Country Club. He caught Ellis, a San Jose pro whose 67 also left him at 9-under 135.
Leilehua and Hawai'i-Hilo alum Nick Mason (69) is a shot back, with Dong Sub Maeng (65) and Sung Yeol Kwon (69).
The rest of the top 15 are all from Japan including low amateur Futoshi Fujita with one notable exception: Defending champion Jesse Mueller (70139), who smoked everybody at Pearl last year and did the same in December to win the Hawai'i State Open.
Since then, the 2008 Gateway Tour money leader from Arizona has won a Gateway event, throwing a pair of 62s at the competition.
Ellis, 30, played in the final group last year with Mueller and watched him hole out from the fairway twice to win by eight. Mueller won't go 19-under again this year, but he might be closer than it looks.
"I'm close, I just need a few breaks here and there," Mueller said. "I think I have a 63 or 64 in me."
Ellis, the 2008 Canadian Tour Player of the Year, would have had the lead but for a missed 5-footer on the final hole. "Other than that I putted almost perfect," he said. "That's golf always end with something you want back."
He finished fifth here last year and fourth the year before, when he won three times in Canada. Last year, he played on the Canadian and Nationwide tours along with some mini-tours before stalling in the PGA Tour qualifying's second stage.
Frustrated, he's barely touched a club since. In contrast Kim, now playing on the Japanese tour, is with one of three Korean groups that have been training in Hawai'i since the beginning of the year. Maeng, 22, and Kwon, 24, are with another. Both play on the Korean PGA tour.
Maeng, from Seoul, turned pro two years ago. He needed just 23 putts in a bogey-free blitz that included a 30-foot birdie putt on the ninth and a kick-in eagle at No. 17.
Kwon, from Daegu, turned pro three years ago. The former member of the Korean national team is also playing his first HPO. After an opening 67, he struggled to find fairways yesterday, but stellar putting provided four birdies and, more importantly, just one bogey.
Mason, 27, now lives in Arizona but played for UH-Hilo and qualified for the Sony Open in Hawai'i last month. He called it the "funnest week of my life."
A win today, in an $80,000 tournament with a $12,000 first prize, might change that.
"Pearl Open is the biggest tournament in Hawai'i, I think," said Mason. "It's got the most history. ... The amount of good players here is incredible."
The field was cut to 72 and ties, with 78 advancing at 148 or better. Sixteen amateurs advanced, including 14-year-old Masamichi Ito and Hawai'i's Christian Akau, Scotty Yamashita, Alika Bell and Donny Hopoi, a Kamehameha eighth-grader.
Among those who missed the cut are female amateurs Allisen Corpuz, 11, and Cyd Okino and Ye Seul Jung.