LIUZHOU, GUANGXI, CHINA—Amateur sensation Cheng Jin carded a third-round, 2-under 70 to extend his lead to nine strokes and remain on course for a wire-to-wire victory at the PGA TOUR Series-China Mainland China Qualifying Tournament.
In warmer conditions compared to the first two days, Jin nailed his fifth birdie of the round at the par-5 18th to move to 7-under overall, having started the day with a three-shot lead at Wolong Lake Golf Club.
Zihong Zhang, 18, moved into a tie for second as the 6-foot-6 amateur shot 71 to finish at 2-over with Dongyu Wang (75), Jin’s former national amateur teammate, heading into the final round of the 72-hole stroke play event.
Guozhen Xu recorded the day’s lowest score, a 68, to lie joint fourth alongside Yixin Xing (74) and Cilin Zhou (73) at 4-over. Kaiyan Shi’s 69 vaulted him 13 places into a tie for eighth as players seek to secure full Tour cards for the 2018 season, which starts this month.
The top-15 finishers will earn full cards and the next 14 and ties will be conditionally exempt for a Series that rewards the top-five money winners with places on the Web.com Tour, the path to the PGA TOUR.
Jin, who won the 2015 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Hong Kong, missed a 3-foot par putt to bogey the first hole, but the 19-year-old quickly regrouped to pick up shots on Nos. 5, 7, 8, 13 and 18 to move clear of the chasing pack.
“As usual, I will just play my best, and stick to my own game,” said Jin, who had five top-10 finishes on the PGA TOUR Series-China in 2014 and 2015. “I just need to keep striking the ball well. I think my ball striking has been great this week.”
The University of Southern California sophomore will have some schoolwork to catch up on when he returns to the U.S., and he remains undecided if and when he will turn pro, whether or not he secures PGA TOUR Series-China status this week.
“I think it’s a great platform that the China Golf Association and PGA TOUR China are giving us, not only for the Chinese players but also many foreign players trying to use this to go to the Web.com Tour or on to a higher stage,” said Jin. “I think as a Chinese I am doing what I am supposed to do – grabbing the opportunity. I’m really thankful to have this opportunity.”
Zhang was third after an opening 71, shot a shaky second-round 76 but returned to the top three after another 71. However, the towering teen was still slightly frustrated after mixing six birdies with five bogeys.
“I got six birdies, but I made a lot of mistakes. I had two three-putts and missed some short putts, so I think I can do better,” said Zhang, who made his first and only PGA TOUR Series-China cut at last year’s Clearwater Bay Open.
After three full seasons from 2014 to 2016, PGA TOUR Series-China will soon resume 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 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.