Lai outclasses field to book his berth in China Open

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 April, 2006, 12:00am

A jubilant Lai Hong-lin outclassed the rest of the field with a one over 73 for a 36-hole total of 146 in the Volvo China Open's final qualifying competition at Beijing CBD International Golf Club yesterday.

With hard fast greens and gusting winds taking their toll on scores, the 35-year-old campaigner from Taiwan finished 15 shots clear of his nearest rival, amateur Xu Wenjun. Another amateur, Li Xiaolong, took the third and final spot for next week's US$1.8 million China Open. He finished a further three shots back.

'The course is very tough but the wind made it much tougher today,' said Lai. 'I played well today, better than yesterday even though my score was the same. One of my friends, and even members from my club in Xian came and followed me round today, and they gave me a lot of encouragement.'

Lai will join an elite field from April 13-16, at the Nick Faldo-designed Beijing Hong Hua International Golf Club including 28 players who have won 50 tournaments between them, headed by defending champion Paul Casey and Sweden's Henrik Stenson, ranked 12th in the world.

'I will just focus on trying to make the cut next week,' Lai said. 'If I do that I can then start to think about how to improve my position over the final two rounds. I am very happy just to get the chance to play again in the Open after such a long time away.'

Lai finished runner-up in the inaugural China Open in 1995, missing out by two shots to eventual champion Raul Fretes of Paraguay.

Hopes were high that top female pro Zhong Xiaolong would squeeze into third place after a par at the difficult 17th. Then, needing just a par five at the final hole to tie for third spot, she found a greenside bunker with her third shot. Her chances evaporated when she took another four shots to get down for a double bogey and to agonisingly finish just two shots outside the leading trio.

'It's a very long and very difficult course but I really tried my best,' said Zhong. 'I missed out by two shots last year and did the same again this year. I will be back next year to try again. It's great to get an opportunity like this.'

Also just missing out by two shots on one of the coveted spots was the China Junior champion for his age group, 14-year-old Fu Zhongyang.

All 10 places available in the China Open, through the qualifying route, have now been decided with five spots going to players from Taiwan and five spots to mainland players.