June 10, 2018

Charlie Saxon pips Jin Zhang to win Guilin Championship

GUILIN, GUANGXI, CHINA—American Charlie Saxon won his fourth career PGA TOUR Series-China title with a one-shot victory over Chinese youngster Jin Zhang at the RMB 1.5 million Guilin Championship, the fifth event of this year’s PGA TOUR Series-China.

Saxon has now equaled current PGA TOUR player Zecheng “Marty” Dou, who won four times in 2016, for the most victories on the PGA TOUR Series-China, which started in 2014.

Saxon, 25, holed a pressure-packed seven-foot par putt on the final hole for a 3-under 69 and an 18-under total of 270 at the stunning Guilin Landscape Golf Club to claim his second Tour title in his last three events, after a victory in Changsha and a joint runner-up finish in Haikou last month.

The 22-year-old Zhang, who led Saxon by one after round three and was co-leader after the second round, struggled in the opening holes then clawed his way back to within one after No. 17, but couldn’t birdie the par-4 closing hole.

Canada’s Justin Shin, who shared second with Saxon at last month’s Haikou Championship, fired a 67 to secure third at 16-under, while Sweden’s Oskar Arvidsson (71) and Malaysia’s Arie Irawan (69) shared fourth at 13-under, their best result in their first full season on the Tour.

American Paul Imondi (74), co-leader after day two, played with Zhang and Saxon in the final group on both Saturday and Sunday, and eventually shared sixth with England’s Alex Belt (71) at 12-under, one ahead of Chinese duo Daxing Jin (70) and Xuewen Luo (67) and Italian Aron Zemmer (67).

Saxon started the day one off the pace and fired out of the blocks with birdies on the second and third to take an early two-shot lead after Zhang bogeyed the third.

Both Saxon and Zhang bogeyed six, and the American stayed in the lead with birdies on 10 and 14. However, Zhang drew within one shot after birdies at 13, 16 and 17, ensuring a pressure-packed final hole.

Saxon missed the green with his second shot on 18 and was forced to save par with a difficult up-and-down, chipping to within seven feet before making the putt in front of big crowds.

“The crowds were fantastic and it was a lot of fun to play in front of so many people. It’s definitely one of the better crowds I’ve experienced in China,” said Saxon, who carded 23 birdies and one eagle in 72 holes.

“The course was in great condition and I’m just really happy about the week. My mindset through the whole day was just to go out there and make birdies. I wanted to keep the pedal down and make it hard for people to catch me.”

Second on the Order of Merit in 2016 when he won twice, the 25-year-old has extended his lead in this year’s money list and heads to next week’s Kunming Championship at Yulongwan Golf Club as a firm favorite.

“I feel great about my game right now and I’m really confident,” Saxon said. “I really enjoy the course we are playing next week. I can’t wait to get out there and hopefully get in contention again.”

Zhang established himself as one to watch after a sensational tournament, recording his best finish on the Tour after ties for 10th in 2015 and 2016 and a share of 11th in last month’s Changsha Championship, won by Saxon.

Although he admitted the pressure of leading and the large crowds fazed him in the early holes, he responded well. After losing the lead with a bogey on the third, he also bogeyed Nos. 6 and 7, then birdied eight and three of the last six holes to close within one of the experienced Saxon.

“Today was my first time playing in the final group on this Tour and if I played the first seven holes better, I think I might have had the chance to win,” said Zhang, who turned pro in October 2014.

“In the first seven holes, I rushed. I played too fast and was conscious of there being such big crowds. Only when I made the birdie on eight did I feel much better and I think I played well on the final few holes.”

Zhang enjoyed his two successive rounds in the last group and said he learnt a lot from Saxon, a four-time winner on the Tour and also a winner on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica last year.

“Charlie played very well in the two rounds we played together. After this week, I learned a lot,” Zhang said. “I hope I can have more chances to play the leading group and hope I will play much better."

For Shin, who won the Wuhan Open in 2015, it was a second successive top-three finish after sharing second with Saxon at last month’s Haikou Championship on tropical Hainan Island. The 26-year-old Korea-born Canadian could also have tied for second in Guilin, but bogeyed the closing hole.

Starting the day five shots behind Zhang, in a share of fifth, Shin picked up three birdies and a bogey on the front nine before birdies at 10, 12, 13 and 16 put him within one shot of Saxon.

“I kept checking the score because I was trying to finish at least 2-under on the first nine holes, so it was going the right way. I was 2-under after nine and then I birdied 10 so I had some momentum and was trying to catch Charlie,” said Shin.

“I kept making birdies on 12 and 13, and on hole 13 I saw he had a two-shot lead. I lipped out with a birdie putt on 15 and missed a short eagle putt on 16, so I was close but just missed out on the last few holes. I’m still really happy with it. I’ve been playing well lately so I’ll get a W (win) soon.”

As well as a win, Shin is also focused on securing a top-five finish on the Order of Merit to earn himself a Web.com Tour card for next year.

“I’m feeling good this year and I’m looking for a W. Getting a win feels good and I want to experience it again,” Shin said.

“My goal is to try to be in the top five. Charlie has won two already, but I’m still going to try to catch him. I’m going to keep knocking in his door and well see what happens.”

Young Korean Woojin Jung, the first-round leader, Australia’s Deyen Lawson and Japan’s Yuwa Kosaihira all tied for 12th and were among several non-exempt players to secure a place in next week’s Kunming Championship.

Every tournament on this year’s PGA TOUR Series-China offers RMB 1.5 million, a 25-percent increase over purse levels from 2016. 

The PGA TOUR established PGA TOUR Series-China in 2014 as its third international developmental tour, following in the footsteps of PGA TOUR Latinoamerica and the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada. Since its inception, PGA TOUR Series-China players have received Official World Golf Ranking points for top finishes at official tournaments.