Zhang on brink of home glory

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 November, 2003, 12:00am

Zhang Lianwei tried to play down China's high expectations after he put one hand on the Volvo China Open trophy yesterday. Zhang said he would have no problems sleeping after emerging with a two-shot lead at the end of the third round of the US$500,000 event at the Shanghai Silport Golf Club.

'I know all of China wants me to win the Open,' he said. 'Tonight will be no different to any other night. This is my job. I'm a professional.' Zhang starts the final round today with the pedigree and the performance to win comfortably. 'I have never lost a tournament in China when leading,' he said.

The 38-year-old is also a four-time winner on the Asian PGA Tour, but his wins have come from off the pace - at the Macau Open in 2001 and 2002 and the Caltex Singapore Masters in January, when he beat European Tour Order of Merit winner Ernie Els. He also won the Volvo Asian Matchplay in 1996.

Zhang threatened to run away from the field after three birdies on the front nine, but he could only come home in par for a 69 and an 11-under total of 205. 'If I have the chance to be aggressive tomorrow, I'll go for it,' said Zhang, who plies his trade on the Japan Tour.

He will be paired with Unho Park, who shot the best round of the day - a five-under 67. The Thailand-born, Australian-raised, Singapore-based Korean said the prospect of playing with Zhang was intimidating but he would try to block out the crowds. 'Zhang is definitely the one to beat. He has the home support and he's playing well. And I think he likes the course as well. There is a little intimidation but I can deal with it. I played well last week and I'm pretty confident.'

Park was leading with three holes to play at the Indian Masters in New Delhi when he 'blew it'. But opportunity has knocked twice for the 31-year-old. 'I think I need to pull off something like I did today - nothing real special, just put a bit of pressure on him [Zhang] and hopefully things will go my way,' said Park. 'I can't say I'm used to being in the last group. I've never been in one on the Asian Tour, only on mini tours. But I've been playing up in Japan and there are a lot of galleries so that has given me experience.'

Park had six birdies and one bogey, making his only mistake with a three-putt on the fifth hole. And his blunder in New Delhi is still fresh in his mind. 'I walked on to the 16th tee and saw I had the outright lead at seven under,' he said. 'I thought I'd stick to my game plan but the conditions were a bit windier and the hole was playing downwind and I pulled out the same club as the day before.

'I blasted it straight through the fairway into the rough and had to chip out. I didn't pay attention to the wind as I was pretty pumped up,' said Park, who tied for fifth behind India's Arjun Atwal after attacking on the last hole and paying the price with another bogey.

The three main dangers to Zhang - overnight leaders Choi Gwang-soo and Adam Fraser and reigning champion David Gleeson - all self-destructed with 75s. That left Australian Scott Strange to stake his claim. The 26-year-old, who finished sixth in the Queensland Open two weeks ago, is three shots behind after a one-under 71. 'I felt as though I played better than that. I hit a few good shots in and really couldn't hole a putt,' he said. 'The guys in front didn't really post numbers. I thought it might get to 12 or 13 under. I'm quite happy to be where I am. It's better chasing than defending. If I can jump off to a quick one it's always difficult for the player behind looking forward than it is for the player in front looking back.'