Korea’s Lee Chang-woo is a step closer to realizing his dream of playing in the Masters Tournament after establishing a slender one-shot lead after the third round of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC). But with a tightly bunched leader board – the top 10 players, representing six different nations, are separated by only seven shots – the stage is set for a thrilling final-round showdown.
Lee, 19, who shared the overnight lead with Japan’s Shohei Hasegawa, compiled a solid 2-under 69 in today’s more benign conditions at Nanshan International Golf Club in China’s northerly Shandong province. He now leads on his own with a three-day total of 211.
On Lee’s heels is China’s Dou Zecheng, who fired his own 69 to lie in second place, and Hasegawa, who recovered from a disappointing start, to end the day a further stroke back in third.
Organized by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, Masters Tournament and The R&A, the AAC awards the winner an invitation to the Masters Tournament and, along with the runner(s)-up, automatic entry into International Final Qualifying for The Open Championship.
“This is my third time playing at this tournament, but it feels a lot different this time [to be in contention],” said Lee, who continues his strong play after finishing in a tie for second place alongside Rory McIlroy at last week’s Korea Open. “I played okay today – my driver was a bit shaky, but my approach shots and putting were good. I’m going to try and do my best tomorrow.”
Lee opened up with a birdie at the par-5 first but gave it back just two holes later after a bogey at the par-3 third. The mistake seemed to settle the Seoul native and he rebounded by playing the more difficult back nine in just 33 shots.
“I was a bit nervous after making the birdie at the first, but after that it went well,” said Lee. “I’m trying not to feel too much pressure because all my shots are going pretty well at the moment. Tomorrow I’m just going to try and repeat my performance over the first three rounds.”
Lee’s closest challenger, Dou, also took advantage of the day’s favorable scoring conditions. With the sun shining and the gusty winds of the opening rounds reduced to a consistent breeze, the 16-year-old offset bogeys at Nos. 11 and 12 with four birdies – including two in the last four holes – to position himself nicely for the final round.
“My irons were back in shape again and I hit some really good shots,” said Dou, who shot to prominence earlier this year after making the cut at the China Open. “I think I’m in pretty good form right know. I just need to pay more attention to my short game, especially my putts.”
Wearing his trademark bucket hat and sunglasses, Dou cut a relaxed, almost carefree figure on the course. But as he readily admitted, even he is not entirely immune to the pressure that comes with being in contention at one of the world’s most prestigious amateur tournaments.
“After I made the two birdies [at the eighth and ninth holes] there were a few nerves,” said Beijing-based Dou, who spends his summers working on his game in the United States. “I was thinking about tomorrow and [the chance of] going to Augusta. I’ll try and not do that in the final round.”
When asked about his unusual choice of headwear, Dou laughed: “My hat brings me good luck,” he said.
The most notable climb up the leader board on moving day was made by Dou’s compatriot, defending champion Guan Tianlang, who produced the kind of form that earned him the title in such fine fashion 12 months ago.
Guan, who turned 15 on Friday, carded a fine 68 – a round that included five birdies on the front nine – to vault into contention at three-over, five shots off the pace in fifth place alongside U.S. Amateur Championship finalist Oliver Goss of Australia.
“I think I had a great round today. I gave myself a lot of opportunities and made a lot of birdies on the front [nine],” said Guan, who received worldwide acclaim after making the cut at the Masters Tournament in April. “I’m feeling really good. My driving and my irons were good and my putting came back today. I really think my feel is coming back and I will try and get some more birdies tomorrow.”
Guan’s round was bettered only by Kim Tae-woo, who produced five birdies during his 67 for the low round of this year’s championship so far.
Earlier in the day, New Zealand’s Sam An made the tournament’s first hole-in-one in four years after holing out at the 174-yard, par 3 17th.
“The wind was in to and from the left so I hit a little punch draw with a six-iron,” said An, who is tied for 22nd. “I had a go, it bounced once, hit the pin and went straight in … I’m pretty happy.”
The final-round will begin Sunday at 8:20 am off the first and 10th tees.