NEW STARS SET SIGHTS ON SOFITEL BREAKTHROUGH
Former China amateur team-mates Wu Kangchun and Yuan Hao took a share of the lead in the Sofitel Golf Championship on Saturday setting up an exciting final day match up at Zhongshan International Golf Club in Nanjing.
Wu fired a five-under-par 67 while Yuan returned a 68, for a three round total of six-under-par 210, in the US$100,000 tournament.
Overnight leader Ye Jianfeng, the 15 year old amateur prodigy, got off to a poor start with a double bogey on the second but held on to finish with a 73 and lies three off the pace with Huang Mingjie. Reigning Omega Order of Merit champion Zhang Lianwei, the mainland’s golfing pioneer is four behind the leaders.
In the season-opening event on the Omega China Tour, Liu Junfeng stole the limelight earlier in the day after registering the circuit’s first double eagle after a career best shot saw him hole his second on the par-five seventh.
Wu and Yuan played for China in the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, Korea, and know each other very well. However, their careers took very different paths after that year when Wu opted to stay an amateur while Yuan made the switch to the paid ranks.
Wu also competed in last year’s Asian Games in Qatar and only turned professional this year. He made impressive appearances in the Volvo China Open and Beijing Opens, making the cut in both tournaments.
“After 2002, I felt there were not enough tournaments for me to play in as a professional but obviously that has all changed now particularly as the Omega China Tour was formed two years ago and has eight events his year,” said Wu, who made an eagle on the par five 14th but bogeyed the 16th.
“I have certainly made a great start to my professional career and feel very comfortable this week. I was even looking at the leader boards on the course today and will probably do so tomorrow,” added the 25-year-old from Zhuhai.
Yuan birdied the par-three 17th to catch Wu and is hungry for his first victory after finishing fifth on last year’s Omega Order of Merit, which was highlighted by claiming second place in the Shandong Leg.
“I don’t remember much about Shandong as I lost by one stroke to Li Chao,” joked Yuan.
The 28 year old is arguably the longest hitter on Tour but plans to play more conservatively on the final round. “I have really attacked the course on the first three days but need to be more cautious on the final day. It will be fun to play with Wu. Our careers have gone in different directions but we have all come together now,” he said.
All eyes were on the young leader Ye at the start of the day. He hooked his tee shot into trees on the par five second hole and had to play from the tee again. He parred the hole with his second ball for a seven and although he dropped another shot on the eighth he rallied impressively with a back nine of two-under-par 34.
“I had quite a bad day but I know tomorrow will be better. The field is concentrated and I feel I have a chance if I go for the flags,” said Ye.
Little-known Liu put his name in the record books after sinking a three wood from 256 yards on the 543-yard seventh hole.
As well as making history Liu also won an Omega Constellation Double Eagle Chronometer – an expensive time piece which the famous Swiss watch manufacturer have awarded to professionals worldwide who have achieved the remarkable feat.
“I couldn’t see where the ball finished after I hit my second shot. When we reached the green we were trying to find my ball. I had a quick look in the hole and was shocked to see it. I punched the air as I was so excited,” said Liu, who turned professional in 2005 and comes from Henan Province.
The Omega watch is valued at RMB27,000 (approx US$3,500) and acts as a wonderful early birthday present for Liu, who turns 26 on May 27.
Liu’s sensational shot also meant that the Tour, which was inaugurated in 2005, has witnessed its first albatross before a hole in one.
The Chinese golfer finished with a level-par 72 to lie at eight over par.