Late Birdies Help Windred Maintain Lead at Halfway Point

SHANGHAI – Blake Windred knuckled down when it mattered most, closing with two consecutive birdies to hold onto a one-stroke lead at the halfway stage of the 11th Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC), being played at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai.

On Friday, the 21-year-old from Newcastle birdied the par-5 eighth and the difficult par-4 ninth for a one-under-par 71 that took his two-day total to 10-under-par 134 after a blistering 63 yesterday.

AAC rookies Ren Yonezawa of Japan and Jun Min Lee of Korea both shot rounds of five-under-par 67 – tied for the lowest figure on a day that featured challenging pin positions – and the pair finished tied for second place at nine-under-par 135.

Kaiwen Liu of China led the local challenge and was in solo fourth place at six under after his second consecutive round of 69.

Windred, who ranks No. 11 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings (WAGR), started from the 10th tee and was two-over par after his first 10 holes with three bogeys and one birdie. It was an incredible par save on the seventh hole that spurred him on for the grandstand finish.

“I was two over for a lot of that round, actually. I hit a lot of good putts out there that just didn’t want to drop. Obviously, I didn’t do as well as yesterday, but I’m so pleased with the way I stayed very patient,” said Windred, who smashed a six-iron from 175 yards out of a fairway bunker on the ninth to leave himself a 15-footer that eventually gave him the edge for the weekend.

“The seventh…I nearly had to take an unplayable. I was kind of half standing in the bunker. My ball was buried and I didn’t really have a stance. I actually gripped down on the lob wedge so much that I was holding on to the shaft. So, yeah, I was quite pleased with just making par on that hole.

“I then just hit a perfect drive and every shot on that eighth hole was just absolutely to tee. Walking from the eighth to the ninth, I said to my caddie, ‘If there’s anything I can take away from today, definitely the way I played the eighth hole was perfect.’

“And that shot on the ninth from the bunker…I practiced that shot a lot. I’ve worn out my 6‑iron pretty much. I just hit a perfect 6‑iron from 175. I was very happy with that, and to shoot under par, with the way I played today, I’m super happy.”

Windred said he was delighted with his position going into the weekend.

“The goal was basically shooting five under every round. So, I have a bit of work to do over the weekend, but so far, I’m on track,” said the Aussie who will retain his amateur status if he wins the AAC title in order to remain eligible to play in the 2020 Masters and The 149th Open at Royal St George’s.

Japan’s Yonezawa has been in terrific form recently, finishing inside the top four in six of his last eight starts, including finishing second at the Asia-Pacific Open Diamond Cup, a professional tournament on the Japan Golf Tour Organisation (JGTO).

He made six birdies and just one bogey on Friday and is in great position to keep the trophy in Japan with WAGR No. 1 Takumi Kanaya playing as the defending champion this week.

“Takumi lives in the same city, and we usually practice together. He told me about the very, very great opportunities from winning this tournament and we talked a lot about the Masters when he got back to Japan,” said Yonezawa.

“I watched this tournament on TV the past two years, so I am very, very excited to be here and if I have a chance, I want to win this tournament. But it will be very, very difficult. I just want to keep going after the first two days.”

South Korea’s Lee, ranked 1,015th in the world, said he took a long break this year and practiced hard in his hometown so that he would be ready for the AAC and college golf in the US.

Following a bogey-free round that included a clutch par save on the par-5 eighth hole (his penultimate), Lee said: “No. 8 was very important because I knew I was one shot off the lead. I hit a great drive. I was only 255 yards out, and I wanted to get on the green for a possible chance of eagle, or an easy birdie. The lay-up is just as hard, so you have to hit two quality shots there.

“I ended up hitting the ball in the water and gave myself a six‑yard little pitch shot for up‑and‑down, but that up‑and‑down was huge because that is big momentum for tomorrow.

“I know Blake is a great player, so I will have to play my own game tomorrow,” added Lee, who held a national swimming record at the age of eight and was a good speedskater before giving up the sport when his elder brother broke his ankle in an accident.

There was a six-way tie for the fifth place at five under par which included the 2017 champion Yuxin Lin of China (71). The defending champion Kanaya climbed to a tie for 12th at three under following a round of 69.

The cut (top-60 and ties) was at 153, with 66 players advancing to the weekend.