Li Chao has plundered his national tour since it was created three years ago. Now he is ready to make the great leap forward and establish himself on the booming Asian Tour.
Li upstaged China's two talismans - Zhang Lianwei and Liang Wenchong - on the first day of the Volvo China Open yesterday to trail leader Michael Lorenzo-Vera by one shot.
And what better way to celebrate his 28th birthday tomorrow than putting himself in contention for his national open? His four-under 68 at the Beijing CBD International Golf Club showed he was ready to join Liang (73) and Zhang (77) in the celebrity stakes.
Li is a two-time winner of the order of merit on the Omega China Tour, winning eight of 21 tournaments. He has already won 172,000 yuan (HK$191,000) after three events this year, despite missing the cut for the first time last week in Kunming.
'I'm feeling confident and I really hope to put in a good performance to make all Chinese proud, especially ahead of the Olympic Games this year,' said Li.
The national amateur champion of 2001 first made a name for himself at the 2003 Sanya Open in Hainan island, but played only six events on the Asian Tour last year, missing the cut in all but the Macau Open.
Back in his hometown, Li felt the confidence surging through him yesterday, thanks to a hot putter.
'I'm especially pleased with my putting. It has given me the confidence to go on and do better this week,' he said.
'I'm not setting any targets. It's still too early and everything can change.'
Frenchman Lorenzo-Vera, 23, topped the Challenge Tour rankings last year and the rookie is playing only his 11th tournament on the European Tour.
Six other players joined Li in a tie for second - Zane Scotland, Simon Griffiths and Richard Finch of England, Joost Luiten (Netherlands), Damien McGrane (Ireland) and Jason Knutzon (US).