Events

Saxon Staves Off Zhang’s Challenge

June 10, 2018

Charlie Saxon took top honours in Guilin. Picture by Liu Zhuang/PGA Tour Series – China.

Guilin, Guangxi, China: American Charlie Saxon won his fourth career PGA Tour Series-China title with a one-shot victory over Chinese youngster Zhang Jin at the RMB1.5 million Guilin Championship, the fifth event of this year’s PGA Tour Series-China.

Saxon has now equalled current PGA Tour player ‘Marty’ Dou Zecheng, who won four times in 2016, for the most victories on the PGA Tour Series-China, which started in 2014.

Saxon, 25, holed a pressure-packed seven-foot par putt on the final hole for a three-under 69 and an 18-under total of 270 at the Guilin Landscape Golf Club to claim his second Tour title in his last three events, after a victory in Changsha and a joint runner-up finish in Haikou last month.

The 22-year-old Zhang, who led Saxon by one after round three and was co-leader after the second round, struggled in the opening holes then clawed his way back to within one after 17, but couldn’t birdie the par-four closing hole.

Canada’s Justin Shin, who shared second with Saxon at last month’s Haikou Championship, fired a 67 to secure third at 16-under, while Swede Oskar Arvidsson (71) and Malaysian Arie Irawan (69) were joint fourth at 13-under, their best result in their first full season on the Tour.

American Paul Imondi (74), co-leader after day two, played with Zhang and Saxon in the final group on both Saturday and Sunday, and eventually shared sixth with England’s Alex Belt (71) at 12-under, one ahead of Chinese duo Jin Daxing (70) and Luo Xuewen (67) and Italian Aron Zemmer (67).

Saxon started the day one off the pace and fired out of the blocks with birdies on the second and third to take a two-shot lead after Zhang bogeyed the third.

Both Saxon and Zhang bogeyed six, and the American stayed in the lead with birdies on 10 and 14. However, Zhang drew within one shot after birdies at 13, 16 and 17, ensuring a pressure-packed final hole.

Saxon missed the green with his second shot on 18 and was forced to save par with a difficult up-and-down, chipping to within seven feet before making the putt in front of big crowds.

“The crowds were fantastic and it was a lot of fun to play in front of so many people. It’s definitely one of the better crowds I’ve experienced in China,” said Saxon, who carded 23 birdies and one eagle in 72 holes.

“The course was in great condition and I’m really happy about the week. My mindset through the whole day was just to make birdies. I wanted to keep the pedal down and make it hard for people to catch me.”

Second on the Order of Merit in 2016 when he won twice, Saxon has extended his lead in this year’s money list and heads to next week’s Kunming Championship at Yulongwan Golf Club as a firm favourite.

Zhang established himself as one to watch after a sensational tournament, recording his best finish on the Tour after ties for 10th in 2015 and 2016 and a share of 11th in last month’s Changsha Championship, won by Saxon.

Although he admitted the pressure of leading and the large crowds fazed him in the early holes, he responded well.

“Today was my first time playing in the final group on this Tour and if I played the first seven holes better, I think I might have had the chance to win,” said Zhang, who turned pro in October 2014.

“In the first seven holes, I rushed. I played too fast and was conscious of there being such big crowds. Only when I made the birdie on eight did I feel much better and I think I played well on the final few holes.”

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