Pan stalks Australian leader at Royal Melbourne

By Martin Blake

If anyone can reel in the runaway leader Antonio Murdaca at Royal Melbourne tomorrow, it might be the relentless Chinese Taipei player Pan Cheng-tsung, who will play in the final group in what will be his last attempt to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC).

Pan, who at the top of his game was ranked the No. 1 amateur in the world, carded a 1-under-par 71 in the third round to keep himself in the running. At 4-under-par overall, he will start the final round eight shots back from Murdaca, but knowing full well that Royal Melbourne’s composite course can play tricks with leaders.

Australia’s Todd Sinnott (74 today) and China’s 16-year-old Jin Cheng also are at 4-under, tied for second place.

“I played solid,” said Pan, the runner-up in the 2012 AAC “The conditions, for sure, were tougher. The greens were faster and firmer. I’m not happy with my score, but having a guy eight shots ahead, I’ve got some work to do tomorrow.”

Asked what he would need to do tomorrow, Pan estimated 67 at the least. “I need a really good round tomorrow. You know with this course, it’s very hard, you can throw a couple of shots away in one hole, so there are a lot of things that can happen. I just want to make sure I’m there for it when it comes.”

But Pan said he would not change his approach, which has been patient. “I will stay with the same strategy: just play smart and when you have a chance, go for it, try to minimise my losses and make a few birdies.”

Jin Cheng, a contemporary of the 2012 winner Guan Tianlang who has lived in his friend’s shadow, carded an even-par 72 to give himself a chance. Bogeys at the 16th and 17th holes did not help his cause, though.

Jin lives part of the year in Singapore and partly in Beijing, and he was runner-up in his age group of the world junior in the United States, as well as making a few cuts in professional tournaments on the PGA Tour China this year.

“I had a great start, I was 3-under after six holes,” said Jin.”I was playing really good, my irons were good and I had some close putts for birdie. Then my long game dropped on the back nine and I made some bogeys. The holes are playing hard on the back nine because the wind started blowing a bit.”

Japan’s Horikawa Mikumu had a dazzling day, carding a five-under 67 that was only matched by the outright leader. Horikawa, who is at 3-under-par, promised fireworks tomorrow. “I’m going to be aggressive, aggressive and aggressive.  I’m going to go out there tomorrow and hopefully shoot 6-under to catch 9-under-par. At least 9-under.”

Tianlang Guan returned a 74 today to be 1-under-par overall, 11 shots back from Murdaca, needing a miracle to repeat his 2012 victory in this tournament.

“The pins are really tough out there today,” he said. “It was windy on the back nine. I had not the best start but in the end I had a pretty good day. There are a few pin placements that are really hard to attack. “I’m further back now, but if I attack the pins tomorrow, make some putts, I’ve still got a chance.”

Melbourne, Australia: Antonio Murdaca of Australia plays to the 4th green during round 2 of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club). October 24 2014, (photo by Dave Tease/AAC)
Melbourne, Australia: Antonio Murdaca of Australia drives from the 18th tee during round 3 of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club). October 25 2014, (photo by Dave Tease/AAC)