HONG KONG, CHINA—New Zealand No. 4 Nick Voke admitted he was “shaking” with nerves as he opened up a five-stroke lead at the RMB 2 million Clearwater Bay Open in his bid for a third win in four PGA TOUR Series-China events and a move up from fifth on the Order of Merit.
As Voke shot a 3-under 67 to move to 11-under after three rounds of the season-ending event, Japan’s Yuwa Kosaihira, third on the money list, shot 68 to move into a share of second with two-time Tour winner Taewoo Kim of Korea at The Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club.
Australian Deyen Lawson and Sweden’s Oskar Arvidsson, the second-round co-leaders, both shot 74 to drop back to 5-under and share fourth place with American Ben Lein (70), Italy’s Cristiano Terragni (70), Korean Jiung Jeong (71) and Thailand’s Gunn Charoenkul (70), a winner on the Tour in 2014 and 2016.
Order of Merit leader Charlie Saxon posted a 74 to fall back to 4-over and a tie for 49th, while England’s Callum Tarren, the only other player who can finish No. 1 on the money list, shot a 67 to move to 3-under and a tie for 12th, creating a platform for a late run at the top spot.
Hong Kong No. 1 Motin Yeung, seventh on the Order of Merit, shot 72 to drop to even-par and a share of 30th, reducing his chances of breaking into the top-five and securing membership on the 2019 Web.com Tour.
Voke, 23, is seeking to win his third title in only his fifth event on PGA TOUR Series-China, having started with a tie for fourth in Suzhou then back-to-back wins in Qinhuangdao and Macau last month. Although he faded to a tie for 16th in last week’s Zhuhai Championship, the rookie pro has been a model of consistency at Clearwater Bay, where he has only shot three bogeys in 54 holes.
“It was a battle today, it really was. I didn’t have my A-game out there, but my short game was real sharp and I kept the ball in play. I had four birdies and one bogey, so all in all, I’m happy to be where I am,” said Voke, who birdied Nos. 2, 7, 9 and 16, with a solitary bogey at the par-4 third, the course’s signature hole.
“I kind of know how to play this golf course. I played the Asia-Pacific Amateur here in 2015 and I was in contention there as well, so I know the key for me isn’t how many birdies I make, it’s how many bogeys I don’t make. I’ve averaged one bogey a day and if I can do that tomorrow as well, I’ll be in with a good chance.”
The methodical Voke, who records his own game statistics, can appear cool and calculating with his game, but having come from behind on the final day for his previous two victories, he admitted he was feeling the pressure of being in the lead and expects to feel even more nervous on Sunday.
“I’m starting to understand that it’s not how well you play, it’s how well you can manage yourself. The idea that hitting a golf ball is more like a shotgun spread as opposed to a sniper rifle, so I’m just trying to manage the spread as best as I can. I’d probably hit a 5-iron off some tighter holes as opposed to driver,” said Voke, who had been New Zealand’s top amateur before turning pro in January.
“However, I was shaking a little bit out there at times and it’s going to be another good battle on Sunday because there are so many good players behind me. I know if I can turn up and do what I need to do to play well and take care of myself, then hopefully I’ll have the trophy at the end of the day. But I’ll be really nervous, if I’m completely honest with you.”
Kim, 25, won twice and finished fourth on the 2016 money list to earn a place on last year’s Web.com Tour, but after losing his card on ‘The Path to the PGA TOUR’, the jovial Korean has had a quiet season upon his return to China and is currently 28th on the Order of Merit.
However, after a ‘perfect’ round on Saturday lit up by four birdies in five holes on the front nine, a win or runner-up finish at the Tour’s most lucrative event could book him a place in the top-10 of the Order of Merit and December’s Final Stage of the Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament.
“It’s a perfect round today. My tee-shots are perfect, my putter is perfect and everything is perfect. My best shot is my tee-shot on No. 7 and then perfect wedge. It was a really good birdie and then I also made a good birdie on the next hole,” said Kim, who will play in the final group with Voke and the consistent Kosaihira, seeking his first win on the Tour.
“I’m very excited to play tomorrow. I’m not sure what to expect. I just want to play well and I want to win if I can. I think my driver was the best part of my game. I hit it straight all day. Hopefully I can keep it up and do more of the same tomorrow.”
Yeung, 25, had plenty of support at Clearwater Bay, but his chances of breaking into the top-five of the Order of Merit dwindled after a round featuring five birdies, five bogeys and a double-bogey on the par-4 12th.
“It was a bit of a rough round for me. I made quite a few mistakes. I made a double and a few other bogeys out there, but mentally I think stayed strong. I also made a few birdies to try to make it up,” said Yeung, who won his first Tour title at June’s Kunming Championship to open up the possibility of playing on next year’s Web.com Tour.
“I want to go low. It’s the last round of the year and it’s the last chance to make a run for the Order of Merit so I want to shoot low. I love playing in front of the fans and I get pretty excited when people are watching me. I think it will help me play well.”
The top-five on the PGA TOUR Series-China Order of Merit will automatically earn membership on next year’s Web.com Tour, the top-10 will be eligible for the Final Stage of the Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament from December 6-9 and players 11-25 will be exempt to the Second Qualifying Stage.
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.