Dou Zecheng’s hopes of following in the footsteps of compatriot Guan Tianlang were given a boost after the Chinese teenager played his way to the top of the leader board after day one of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC). An invitation to the Masters Tournament and International Final Qualifying for The Open Championship awaits the winner.
Sixteen-year-old Dou, who rose to prominence earlier this year when he made the cut at the China Open, fired a superb, blemish-free 68 in cold, windy conditions at Nanshan International Golf Club to establish a two-shot lead over Korea’s Lee Chang-woo (70) in second place. Brady Watt (71), the Australian who reached the semi-finals at this year’s U.S. Amateur Championship, is a shot further back in third place.
“I think I’ve improved a lot from last year, so I feel pretty confident this time,” said the bucket hat-wearing Dou, who finished T-18 at the 2012 AAC. “I missed a couple of birdie chances but I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job. At the beginning it was very windy and cold, but I started to warm up and just played better and better.”
Any icy wind made the already challenging Garden Course at Nanshan International a formidable test for the 117-strong field, but the laid-back Dou took the conditions in his stride, putting in a composed performance despite being outdriven by his playing partner, Australia’s Oliver Goss (72), by an average of 30 yards.
“I’m still very short [compared to Goss]. If I had his distance and I tried to hit it straighter, I could shoot even lower,” said Dou, who was part of the Liaoning province team, which triumphed at last month’s China National Games.
With three rounds to go – and a field packed full of quality – Dou is under no illusions of the task he faces if he is to become the second Chinese winner of the championship in as many years.
“I feel really honoured just to play here, and then now I’ve just got to try my best to keep the lead and just play well over the next few days,” said Dou, who is known as Marty among his Western friends.
Second-placed Lee continued his recent run of fine form by taking the morning lead after carding just one bogey in his round of 70. The 20-year-old, who finished alongside Rory McIlroy in a tie for second at last week’s Korean Open, started his round on the more difficult back nine and bogeyed the 13th before bouncing back in fine fashion with birdies at the first and fifth.
“I’m pretty much happy with my score because I was in some dangerous situations where I had to make a few six- and seven-foot putts for par,” said Lee, number 31 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. “The course is long and it was very windy … it was a good score in the circumstances.”
Watt, the world number nine, was another who was satisfied with his round. The Australian, who also started at the 10th, got off to a rough start with two bogeys in his opening four holes. But an eagle at the par-five 15th followed by a solid front nine, which included a birdie at the fifth, gave Watt a level-par 71.
“It was definitely a battle out there today,” declared Watt. “The scoring was a lot tougher and I just hung around and made a lot of pars. 71 was about right.”
It was a challenge for Watt’s playing partner, defending champion Guan. After reaching the turn at 1-under 34, the 14-year-old bogeyed the third hole then carded a costly double bogey at the seventh, where he found a hazard with his tee shot. Another bogey at the ninth added up to a three-over 74.
“I felt like I played okay,” remarked Guan. “I missed a few chances but overall I’m quite happy. I have the confidence to go out and shoot a better score tomorrow.”