Galleries put Zhang off stroke

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 November, 2003, 12:00am

A gallery appeared for Zhang Lianwei at the Volvo China Open yesterday and China's superstar started to feel the heat.

Crowds are usually sparse to non-existent in China as the game of golf has not yet reached the common man. But with Zhang everyone's favourite to win the title he desires the most, the fans came out in droves.

Zhang, 38, didn't perform to his demanding standards in the second round, but still managed a three-under-par 69 to finish in a tie for second, a stroke behind leaders Choi Gwang-soo of South Korea and Adam Fraser of Australia in the US$500,000 event.

The 43-year-old Choi equalled the course record of eight-under 64, stealing everyone's thunder before Fraser also got in on the act with his 67 to follow a first-day 68 for a combined total of 135 at the Shanghai Silport Golf Club.

Choi, a multiple Order of Merit winner on the Korean Tour, also overshadowed Scotland's Ross Bain, who produced his best round for more than two years when firing a 65 to join Zhang at eight under.

Zhang managed only three birdies, but could have had two or three more as the putts lipped out, much to the disappointment of his fans.

'I didn't feel very comfortable,' he said. 'I'm feeling a bit of pressure to win this event. I'm much more relaxed when I play in other countries like Japan. Although the crowds are bigger there, they follow all the star players and not me.'

Zhang will have to cope with bigger crowds at the weekend and the likelihood of a wind that caused him problems yesterday.

'The wind affected me,' he said. 'I often missed the target by 10 yards and my putting wasn't that good.'

Choi, who tied for 10th in his only appearance at the Volvo China Open in 2001, played immaculate golf. 'I didn't miss any fairways,' he said. 'I birdied all the par fives - they were like a give-me,' he said. 'I feel very confident. I have experience at winning and there is no pressure on me at all.'

Fraser, who led the Macau Open after a course record in the opening round last month, is the older brother of Marcus Fraser, who claimed the Russian Open among his four wins this year. 'If I keep knocking on the door, eventually it will open for me,' said the 26-year-old Fraser.

Bain hasn't even been knocking and had trouble remembering his last score in the mid-60s. But the 27-year-old Dubai-based Scot is determined to regain his playing rights after losing his exemption on the Asian PGA Tour last year. 'A good week here will get my foot back in the door,' he said. 'I started working with a new coach about a month ago and we have sorted out my swing a little bit. It has given me some focus. This week is the first week it's fallen into place,' said Bain.

'Today will help me big time. I've been making cuts, but not quite clicking at the weekends. I've been saying to everyone I need just one good round to get me back on track.'

Bain was seven-under through 14 holes and chasing the course record of 64 set by South African James Kingston last year, but he squandered his opportunities on the way home. Reigning champion David Gleeson loomed ominously with a five-under 67, joining fellow Australian Scott Strange (67) and Thailand's Thaworn Wiratchant (69) at 137.