BEIJING, CHINA—Another PGA TOUR Series-China season is in the books, Callum Tarren defeating Charlie Saxon by a mere RMB 2,376 to win the Order of Merit, Player of the Year honors and an exemption into every 2019 Web.com Tour tournament. Before looking ahead to 2019 in what will be the fifth PGA TOUR Series-China season, we look back at the season that was.
Tarren, a native of Darlington, England, who played college golf in the United States at Radford University in Virginia, had a spectacular season in China – all without benefit of a win. A victory is the only thing missing from Tarren’s resume, but the first Englishman to win the Order of Merit was clearly the most consistent player all year, with zero missed cuts and a Tour-leading nine top-10s – and four of those were runner-up finishes.
In his Series career, Tarren now has six second-place efforts, tying him for most in Tour history with China’s Xinjun Zhang. Tarren’s latest came at the season-ending Clearwater Bay Open, a finish that was good enough to move him up the money list and secure all that came with his Order of Merit title.
With one tournament remaining, American Charlie Saxon held a healthy RMB 197,473 Order of Merit lead over Tarren, who was the only player who could mathematically catch Saxon. All Tarren needed to do to win the money title was finish no worse than solo second at the season-ending Clearwater Bay Open and hope Saxon didn’t tie for 24th or better. Remarkably, both scenarios played out, with Tarren finishing second and Saxon tying for 25th.
Despite the disappointment of finishing second – again – on the Order of Merit, Saxon became PGA TOUR Series-China’s all-time leading money-winner, passing China’s Zecheng “Marty” Dou on the list.
The top five career earners are Saxon (RMB 1,958,323), Dou (RMB 1,735,203), Zhang (1,700,320), Tarren (RMB 1,423,415) and Bryden Macpherson (RMB 1,311,209). Todd Baek and Gunn Charoenkul also passed the seven-figure career mark this season. They are seventh and eighth on the career list, respectively.
Making birdies pays off
The top three in birdies made in 2018 were Callum Tarren, Charlie Saxon and Yuwa Kosaihira, Nos. 1, 2 and 4 on the final Order of Merit. Tarren had 255 birdies, 13 more than Saxon and none more important than the two-putt birdie he navigated from 40 feet at The Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club’s 18th hole in the final round that secured him a second-place finish and, ultimately, the money title.
Making the most of limited opportunities
Imagine what Nick Voke might have done had he played more than five tournaments. After turning pro early in the year, the New Zealander didn’t make it to China until the 10th of 14 events. But in those final five tournaments, Voke won three times, and tied for fourth and 16th. He was completely dominant, beginning his PGA TOUR Series-China career with no status and finishing with 2019 Web.com Tour membership after finishing third on the Order of Merit.
15 strokes better
It took until the final round of 2018 for a player to establish the lowest 18-hole score of the year. Hong Kong’s Shunyat “Jason” Hak fired a 9-under 61 at his home course—The Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club—a better numerical score by one than the 62s four players recorded earlier in the year. Hak was on something of a roller-coaster ride on the weekend in Hong Kong, having shot a 6-over 76 on the Saturday.
What the heck, it’s Tech
All season, Kevin Techakanokboon had struggled with his game. He entered the Zhuhai Championship 86th on the Order of Merit, concerned about keeping his playing privileges for 2019. He had missed four cuts and withdrew from another tournament leading into Zhuhai. With all that on his resume, Techakanokboon shot a 4-under 280 at the Orient Golf Club to win by a stroke. Even as the only 2018 winner who fired an over-par final round, on easily the most-difficult course played all season, Techakanokboon and his 13-letter surname was just a little better than everybody else, the victory making him fully exempt for 2019.
The four aces
There was something about the pin placement at No. 10 in the second round of the Macau Championship. Alvin Cheung, Richard Jung and Haoyuan Li all made aces on the hole, three of the total 11 holes-in-one recorded during the season.
Then an albatross
One round after all the holes-in-one, Nick Voke was adding to his legend when he became only the second player to make a double eagle on PGA TOUR Series-China. In the third round, on his way to victory, Voke hit a 218-yard, 4-iron second-shot approach to the hole at No. 7 at Caesars Golf Macau that rolled into the hole. He finished with a 65 that day and eventually went on to capture his second win in a row. The only other double eagle in Tour history came courtesy of Dohyun Kim at the 2014 Hainan Open.
Wow, it’s Cao!
Yi Cao wasn’t really in the conversation as a potential winner as the final round of the Chongqing Championship began. He trailed England’s William Harrold by eight shots with 18 holes to play, mired in a tie for ninth. On his last day, though, Cao shot a bogey-free, nine-birdie 63 and then watched as Harrold closed with five straight pars to force a playoff, an extra session that Cao won with a birdie on the first extra hole.
Another amateur winner
China’s Cheng Jin made history in 2014 when the 16-year-old came from behind on the final day to win the Nine Dragons Open, becoming the first amateur to win a PGA TOUR Series-China tournament. Jin, still an amateur today and a junior at the University of Southern California, now has company in the win department as Yechun “Carl” Yuan cruised to victory at the Qingdao Championship in July. After withdrawing as a student from the University of Washington, Yuan returned to China to prepare for the Asian Games. In between, he won in Qingdao and then turned pro once the Games concluded. Even with limited starts as a pro, Yuan finished 23rd on the Order of Merit. Yi Cao and Yuan became the eighth and ninth different players from China, respectively, to win tournaments since 2014. Those nine have combined for 16 titles.
The two Kiwi kings
Only two players from New Zealand have won on PGA TOUR Series-China, and they both have three titles. In 2015, Josh Geary won three titles in seven tournaments on his way to a second-place finish on the Order of Merit. Three years later, Nick Voke was winning a trio of tournaments in five tournament starts and finishing third on the Order of Merit.
A long wait
Todd Baek went 1,344 days between his first PGA TOUR Series-China win and his second. The winner of the 2014 Chateau Junding Penglai Open hoisted another trophy in China when Baek won the Haikou Open in Hainan in May.
Extra holes deciding things
In 37 previous PGA TOUR Series-China tournaments prior to 2018, there had only been four playoffs to decide a champion. This season, there were three—at the Chongqing Championship, the Kunming Championship and the Qinhuangdao Championship. All three playoffs ended with players making birdie – Yi Cao in Chongqing, Motin Yeung in Kunming and Nick Voke in Qinhuangdao.
After playing previously on the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada in his native Canada and on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica, Peter Campbell decided to give PGA TOUR Series-China a try in 2018, and it paid off in a big way at the Beijing Championship. Campbell took control of the tournament with a second-round 64, shot a 70 in the third round to maintain a one-shot lead and then held on with another 70 on the final day to become the third Canadian in history to win on the Tour. In the next tournament a month later, Richard Jung joined Campbell and Eugene Wong and Justin Shin—Canadians who won in 2015—on the list when Jung won the Suzhou Championship.