Thursday, February 08, 2018

Alex Belt in second place after first round of China Tour qualifying school

HAIKOU, HAINAN, CHINA—Chunkang ‘Jacob’ Hung had his caddie to thank after he eagled the par-5 18th for a 6-under 66 and a one-shot lead after the first round of the PGA TOUR Series-China International Qualifying Tournament No. 2 at Mission Hills Haikou in Hainan.

England’s Alex Belt had earlier set the clubhouse lead with a 67 over the 7,147-yard Sandbelt Trails Course, which is hosting a second successive 72-hole, no-cut qualifier.

Ireland’s Brian O’Donovan (68), a teaching pro at Mission Hills Shenzhen, and Australia’s Sean Underwood (69) were third and fourth, while American trio Joseph Winslow, Jesse Speirs and Charlie Netzel all shot 70. Hong Kong’s Motin Yeung and Philippine amateur Lloyd Jefferson Go were among six players sharing eighth place at 1-under.

The top-15 finishers will earn full cards and the next 25 and ties will be conditionally exempt for a Series that rewards the top-five money winners with places on the Tour, the path to the PGA TOUR.

Hung, 27, mixed six birdies with three bogeys before his final-hole eagle and admitted he had his caddie to thank for his club selection on his approach.

“The second shot was about 240 yards and I didn’t know which club to use, so I asked him to choose and he said five-wood. I ended up hitting it to about nine feet and holing the putt for an eagle,” said Hung, who has played mainly in Chinese Taipei since turning pro in 2014.

“It’s a good score, but I missed so many other birdie chances after my last bogey on hole 10. I had birdie chances on almost every hole after that. Anyway, I won’t think about this score tomorrow. I’ll just start again. I still have three days.”

Belt, a two-time Euro Pro Tour winner, quickly found his stride in his first tournament of the year. Teeing off early on 10, the 32-year-old Yorkshireman birdied Nos. 11, 16, 2, 3, 6 and 8 to move to 6-under before carding his sole bogey at the par-3 ninth.

Having played European Challenge Tour and Asian Tour events while playing in China in 2017, Belt is in a strong position to secure a PGA TOUR Series-China card, but says he’s not looking too far ahead.

“It’s always nice to get off to a good start and see a few putts go in. Believe it or not, I missed quite a lot of short putts, although I also holed a couple that maybe I shouldn’t have,” said Belt, whose career highlights include playing two rounds with eventual champion Byeonghun An at the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in 2015.

“I’ve been swinging it well and playing well. Obviously, I’m hoping to guarantee a top-15 spot, but I’m not really thinking about that when I’m playing. Too often in the past, I’ve thought about the outcome before the day or the tournament’s over and they’re unhelpful thoughts, so I’m just going to try and take each shot as it comes. It’s a cliché, but that’s what we need to do.”

O’Donovan, 30, admitted he benefited from his familiarity with the course and that he may have to readjust his teaching schedule if he continues his current form and secures status on the 14-event Tour.

“I’m one of the teaching pros at the Mission Hills Shenzhen resort so I get to come to Haikou quite a lot and play the course. I do know where I’m going, so I have a slight advantage. It was good fun, I enjoyed it,” smiled O’Donovan, one of two Irish players in the field.

“If I do get my card, I’ll probably have to speak to my boss,” he laughed. “I should be okay. They’re good to me so I hope they’ll allow me to go play. I’ll just try and manage both as best I can.”

In contrast to the China-based O’Donovan, Underwood is visiting the country for the first time. The Sydney-based 30-year-old was delighted after a round that included five birdies and two bogeys.

“I’m very happy. I bogeyed the last, but I can’t complain because I holed I couple of putts I didn’t expect to,” said Underwood, who got married last November.

“The course plays pretty long and I don’t hit it the furthest, so I was pretty happy to hit my irons well and hole quite a few putts. I hit a lot of greens and didn’t miss too many fairways with the driver. I’m happy to kick things off with a good score.”

This week’s field comprises 120 players from 21 countries and regions including the U.S. (29 players), South Korea (27), Chinese Taipei (13), Australia (13), Japan (11) and U.K. (six).

After a one-year hiatus, PGA TOUR Series-China resumes in March with a 14-tournament schedule that starts with the Chengdu Championship at Luxehills International Country Club (March 15-18) and the Chongqing Championship at Poly Golf Club (March 22-25). Every tournament will offer RMB 1.5 million, a 25-percent increase over purse levels from 2016.

The Mainland China Qualifying Tournament for China passport holders will be held at Wolong Lake Golf Club in Liuzhou City in Guangxi from February 27-March 2 (Tuesday-Friday).



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