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World No. 1,426 takes lead in China Open

Opening-round 64 for Jin raises eyebrows

Gulf News

Beijing: China’s Daxing Jin was the surprise early leader of the Volvo China Open after shooting an opening-round eight-under par 64 at the Beijing Huairou Topwin Golf and Country Club.

Jin, the world No. 1,426 who plays mainly on the China Tour and has never made the cut at the event, carded six birdies and an eagle to lead England’s Matt Wallace and Italian Nino Bertasio by just one shot after what was a blemish-free round in the RMB 20 million tournament.

“I have to give myself full marks for today’s performance,” smiled 25-year-old Jin. “It was a smooth day, I hit 17 greens in regulation and made par on the one that I missed. My game-plan tomorrow will be the same as today — stay relaxed and play one stroke at a time.

“I’ve played this event five or six times but never made the cut so hopefully this week will be a turning point as this tournament means so much to the Chinese players. The Volvo China Open has given us a gateway to the world stage and I’m aiming to do my best this week.”

For Wallace, two missed cuts in his last two events seemed a distant memory as seven birdies and an eagle helped him into the clubhouse with a 65 (-7).

“It’s a very good start and the couple of bogeys were more down to mental error rather than swing error so it was great to finish eagle-birdie. I’ve been working with Robert Rock on shortening my back swing and something seems to have clicked — I feel like I’m only making a half-swing but I’m striking the ball better and not losing any distance.”

Italy’s Bertasio set a scorching pace in the afternoon with seven birdies and no dropped shots to also shoot an opening 65 (-7). “It was quite easy to be honest — I was hitting them close all day,” said the 29-year-old from Brescia. “It was stress-free, easy golf. The key is to hit them close to the flag as the greens have serious slopes, which makes it difficult to two-putt if you are far away. I just need to keep my irons sharp again tomorrow.”

Defending champion Alexander Levy opened his account with a respectable three under-par 69. Playing alongside Chinese star Haotong Li and World No. 32 Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, Levy shot six birdies and three bogeys to finish the opening day in a tie for 18th place, five shots off the early leader.

“I’m very tired so I’m OK with 69,” he said. “I’m happy with the way I played — I was a little stiff when I started, so I just wanted to shoot below par today. Three under is very good and I have put myself in a good position.”

It was a positive opener from Levy who arrived on the eve of the tournament having made a gruelling trip from Morocco where he won last week’s Trophee Hassan II in Rabat.

“I think I used up a lot more energy than I thought last week,” he added. “I played one of my best games in Morocco and my job is to try and follow that. To win two tournaments in a row and have a successful title defence is a lot to ask but you never know what will happen.”

For 2016 champion Li, the dream of becoming the first Chinese double-winner of the National Open is very much alive.

Despite a poor front nine that saw him two-over par, the 22-year-old fought back on his inward nine to roll in four birdies and finish the day on two-under par 70.

“I feel great with a 70 — my front nine was not good so I was happy to see a better back nine and four-under,” said Li. “A double bogey to start was tough but I know this course quite well and knew I still had a lot of birdie chances before the end of the round. The main thing is I am still in the tournament.”

Of the European Tour big guns vying for China’s national Open title, Bernd Wiesberger of Austria carded an opening round level par 72, while Holland’s Joost Luiten came home with a 70. India’s Shubhankar Sharma shot a 69 to lie in a tie for 18th.

Elsewhere, Japan’s Hideto Tanihara — who also shot a level par 72 — had a profitable opening day with the Japanese star collecting the keys to a brand-new Volvo XC90 T5 Momentum thanks to a spectacular hole-in-one from the 39-year-old on the 212-yard, par three 16th.

“I had no other thought than to hit eight iron,” he said, after receiving the keys of his new luxury SUV from Sven De Smet, Chairman of the board of directors of the Volvo China Open. “I hit it perfectly and knew it was a good shot, but I didn’t think it was going to go in the hole. I’ve had three holes-in-one in tournaments but never won anything like this. It’s amazing.”

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