Par-3 Supremacy Gives Zhang a Two-Stroke Wuhan Open Lead
2014-05-15WUHAN, China—Through the first two tournaments, Xin Jun Zhang has been the most consistent of China’s PGA TOUR China Series’ players. Thursday, nothing changed. Zhang overcame two early bogeys then played his final 15 holes in 7-under, shot an opening 67 and takes a two stroke lead after the first round of the United Investment Real Estate Wuhan Open. He leads China’s Shao Cai He and South Korea’s Yi Keun Chang and Todd Baek by two shots.
Zhang began his PGA TOUR China Series career with a runner-up performance at the Mission Hills Haikou Open in April. He followed that with another top-10, a tie for eighth, at the Series’ most-recent event, the Buick Open in Guangzhou. Despite his early stumbles at the Yishan Golf Club, those problems soon gave way to a birdie barrage that vaulted him to the top of the leaderboard.
“Although I got two bogeys at the beginning of my round, I played solid after those two holes today,” said Zhang, who also counts on his resume a tie for eighth at the co-sanctioned Japan Golf Tour-OneAsia Tour Indonesia PGA Championship earlier in the season. “The most exciting thing is I made a birdie on every par-3. That’s pretty cool. I haven’t done that for about two years.”
Starting his round on Yishan’s back nine, Zhang bogeyed the 11th and 12th holes and didn’t make his first birdie of the day until the par-3 13th hole. He added birdies on his sixth and eighth holes of the day to make the turn at 1-under 35.
“My driver was good on both the 11th and 12th, but I hit my second shots in the bunkers, and it’s hard to save par from there,” Zhang said of the two par-4s that resulted in early bogeys. “So those two bogeys are OK for me. My attitude is to focus on every shot and trust myself that I can make a lot of birdies today. I did that.”
On the back nine, Zhang, who turns 27 next month, was 4-under, including birdies on the par-3 second hole and the par-3 seventh, giving him four 2s on his scorecard.
Chasing Zhang is He, Chang and Baek. Although He has made the cut in both of the first two PGA TOUR China Series events, his best finish is a tie for 38th at the Mission Hills Haikou Open.
“I played well today, the putting is good, the condition of the greens is nice, although the speed on the greens is much faster than in the practice round,” He noted. While Zhang was birdieing all the par-3s at Yishan Golf Club, He was taking advantage of the course’s par-5s, making birdie on three of the four, with only the fourth hole—which resulted in a par—denying him.
“I made a plan before the round, and I got three birdies on the par-5s. I think the par-5s are easy here. The distances are not long, so on my second shot I can go for the green.”
Chang’s game has been in solid form since he earned fully exempt status for the Series by tying for 14th at March’s second Qualifying Tournament. He was 11th at the opening event and then tied for 17th at the Buick Open and is 12th on the order of merit.
Baek didn’t play in the Buick Open after tying for sixth at Mission Hills. The South Korean who lives in the United States (he played collegiately at San Diego State) is happy to be back playing and in the hunt.
“Five birdies, two bogeys. It’s OK,” he said. “I just made some mistakes, some stupid mistakes that caused bogeys.” Baek was especially chagrined at his bogey on the second-to-last hole of the day.
“I told myself not to hit to the left, and I hit the ball left, in the bunker. But overall, I played a solid round, especially on the par-5s,” Baek added.
A quartet of players are tied for fifth, three strokes back. They are Zheng Ouyang, Scott Barr, amateur Yi Cheng Wang and order of merit leader Sam Chien, who won the Buick Open two weeks ago.
Sam Chien, who sits atop the Series’ order of merit after two tournaments, kept his streak alive Thursday, recording his ninth consecutive under-par round to start the season. He shot a 2-under 70 Thursday and is tied for fifth through 18 holes.
Australia’s Scott Barr made his PGA TOUR China Series debut Thursday after earning exempt status by tying for sixth at the second Qualifying Tournament in March. Barr has been playing on the Asian Tour, with five starts between January and May. His top finish was a tie for 12th at the Sail-SBI Open in New Delhi, India, and Barr is currently 31st on that circuit’s order of merit.
There were no bogey-free rounds Thursday, although Australia’s Daniel Nisbet was poised to make that happen until he made a double bogey-6 on his final hole of the day, the par-4 18th.
The only par-5 to not play under-par during Thursday’s first round was the sixth hole. It played to a 5.15 stroke average. The par-5 15th hole was the easiest hole at Yishan Golf Club. It saw 50 birdies and four eagles vs. only 15 bogeys and one double bogey. It played .34 strokes below par.
Two players—Qin Xu and Ren Han—withdrew, Xu after his round and Han during the round.
Here’s how all nine amateurs in the field fared through the first round of the Wuhan Open:
Yi Cheng Wang 36-34—70 (-2)
Zi Han She 36-37—73 (+1)
Jin Zhang 35-38—73 (+1)
Yan Wei Lu 37-38—75 (+3)
Zheng Kai Bai 36-40—76 (+4)
Dong Yu Wang 40-39—79 (+7)
Zi Ting Wang 38-41—79 (+7)
Zi Hao Chen 44-37—81 (+9)
Wu Ming Fan 40-43—83 (+11)
Bogey-free rounds (0)
First Round (0):