Cao, Kim Take Share of 54-Hole Lead into Final Round of Buick Open


(Yi CAO)

HAIKOU, China—Yi Cao had something of a slow start during the third round of the Ping An China Tour’s Buick Open on Saturday. He shot a 1-under 71 on Mission Hills Golf Club’s Sandbelt Trails Course, his first round in the 70s this week. Even still, Cao will take with him a share of the lead into the final round of the Tour’s season-opening event. Cao is tied with John Young Kim as both players fight for their first professional trophy Sunday. Two other yet-to -win players are right in the hunt, including Yi Keun Chang, who trails by one shot.

It’s a crowded leaderboard, with 10 players within five strokes of the lead.

(Yi CAO)

“Slow start? No problem. I know I’m fine,” said Cao following his round. It took until the eighth hole for him to record his first birdie after making bogey on No. 7. After turning to the back nine, Cao had his first real problem on the 14th that ended his momentum he gained with two birdies, on No. 10 and 12.

“I thought too much on the (bunker) shot,” said Cao of his issues from the sand on No. 14. Using a 6-iron on the par-3, Cao pushed his ball to the bunker, buried. He was thinking of chipping it short of the hole but hesitated on his downswing. Two chips out and then two putts, and Cao had his second double bogey of the tournament.

“Then I was thinking, I need to go red (get back under par) again,” added Cao. On No. 15, he smashed his tee shot to the center of the fairway. Sixty-four yards to the pin, the ball left the clubface of his 58-degree wedge, slipped around the cup and stopped inches away, leaving Cao a tap-in birdie.

 “I’ll walk on my own road, catch me if you can,” said Cao of his position as one of the leaders. In 2012, Cao was the 54-hole leader of a China Challenge Tour event in Beijing. Countryman Mu Hu passed him on the final day.

“A little bit of luck is needed if I want to win, but the more I put myself into this position the better I have the chance to name myself a champion,” Cao continued. “It will boost my confidence, too.”

Cao will face a challenge from Kim and Chang. Kim, an American who played collegiate golf at the University of Tulsa, turned in six birdies and two bogeys Saturday to tie Cao at 8-under. Chang trails by one shot.

(John Young KIM)

“I had a couple of errant tee shots, but I putted well today,” said Kim, whose shot of the day came at No. 17. He hit his drive into a fairway bunker. Facing a tough stance in the bunker, Kim pulled his second shot.

“I didn't think I was going to make it,” said Kim,” but I got it on the green and two-putted. Shot of the day.”

This will be Kim’s first time leading or co-leading at the 54-hole mark.

“Of course I want to win. Who doesn’t?” said Kim. “Tomorrow, I’ll just come out and play golf; stick to my gameplan.”

(Yi Keun CHANG)

Joining the leading group is Chang, who was tied for lead after the first round.

“I putted good today, some good par saves,” said Chang. He saved two pars on Nos. 16 and 17, where on both holes his approach shots landed in bunkers.

Chang played well on his first nine. At No. 7, with 100 yards to the green and against the wind, he lasered his second shot three feet from the hole. On No. 8, he pushed his tee shot but dropped in his approach shot to 18 feet. From there, he made the eagle.

“I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I hope my putter can help me win,” the 21-year old said.


J.H. Wang, who finished 23-under last year here at the Sandbelt Trails Course in winning the Mission Hills Haikou Open, carded a 3-under 69 and is 5-under for the tournament. He sits alone in fourth. “There will be some difficulty in winning [Sunday],” said Wang, who had five birdies and two bogeys in the third round.  ”I’ll try my best.”

(Zecheng DOU)

The other Chinese player near the top of the leaderboard is 18-year old Ze Cheng Dou, tied for fifth with five others, at 4-under. Dou had long day, finishing 24, including the final eight of his second round early in the morning. He had a hot start on his final 18, capturing six birdies in his first 10 holes, moving all the way to solo second on the leaderboard at one point.

“I had pretty good iron play today, which left me some short putts for birdie,” he said. Dou almost eagled his first hole when he drove off the fairway to the right rough and rescued back to the fairway with a 3-wood. Sixty yards from the hole, Dou pitched his ball right next to the cup.

On the 16th hole, about to putt in a six-incher for par, he suffered a cramp in his leg on another hot, humid day here. He missed the putt.

“It’s the third I can remember,” Dou said of missed putts from that range.

Dou, who turned pro last year before the PGA TOUR’s World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, tying for 69th in Shanghai, succinctly talked about what he’ll do Sunday: “I’ll try tomorrow, for the big W.”


Third-Round Notes

The cut took place Saturday morning at the conclusion of the weather-delayed second round. Seventy-five players at 6-over or better qualified for the final 36 holes. 

Four amateurs made the cut this week. They were China’s Yi Chen Wang, Cheng Jin and Zi Han She and Hong Kong’s Oliver Roberts. Through 54 holes, Jin leads the amateur brigade, at 4-over (tied for 40th), followed by Wang at 6-over (tied for 54th), She at 10-over (tied for 67th) and Roberts at 11-over (tied for 71st). 

South Korea’s Yi Keun Chang had a solid first Ping An China Tour season in 2014, recording three top-10s and a 23rd-place finish on the Order of Merit in nine tournaments played. Through 54 holes this week, Chang, who played collegiate golf at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, is in third, a stroke behind leaders John Young Kim and Yi Cao. 

The par-5 eighth hole has been the easiest hole all week at the Sandbelt Trails Course. Saturday players dominated the hole. It played almost a full stroke under par (4.24), yielding six eagles, 50 birdies, three bogeys and only one double bogey. 

Sandbelt Trails’ par-5 No. 1 continues to befuddle players. It played over par in each of the first two rounds, with the hole’s stroke average right at par in Saturday’s third round (5.0). There have only been 56 birdies there all week, and no player has made an eagle. 

Australian Jamie Arnold turned in the best three-hole stretch of the season when he went birdie-birdie-eagle on holes 6 through 8 in the third round. His 4-under showing on those three holes helped him to a 3-under day. He is currently 4-under overall and tied for fifth with five players, four shots behind leaders John Young Kim and Yi Cao. 

John Young Kim and Yi Cao are tied for the Buick Open 54-hole lead. The last time the Ping An China Tour had a more than one player tied for the lead through 54 holes was at the 2014 United Investment Real Estate Wuhan Open in May. Entering the final round, Australian Brett Drewitt, China’s Xin Jun Zhang and the U.S.’s Anthony Kang all shared the lead, with Drewitt eventually prevailing in a playoff. 

(Photographer: Zhuang LIU)


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