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Carl Yuan birdie three of the last four holes in his first round. Photo: PGA Tour

Korn Ferry Tour: Yuan’s birdie blitz leaves him in driver’s seat to finish season in top spot

  • Chinese golfer’s 6-under 66 leaves him in a tie for second after first round at season-ending Tour Championship
  • Player that finishes top of the rankings will earn exemptions into The Players Championship and US Open next year
PGA Tour

Carl Yuan fired seven birdies en route to a first round 66, enough to leave him in a tie for second after the first round of the Korn Ferry Tour Championship on Thursday.

The Chinese golfer’s 6-under par round left him two shots adrift of early leader Michael Gligic, but Yuan is in pole position in the race to finish on top of the points list.

Yuan, who has already secured his PGA Tour card for the new season, has made it his mission to earn the top ranking, which offers exemptions into next year’s Players Championship and US Open.

Golfers Yuan and Dou in the hunt for top Korn Ferry Tour ranking

Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat opened with a 67 to share eighth place and keep his hopes of regaining his Tour card alive, while three other Asian golfers who have already secured their spots – Korea’s Byeong Hun An, Taiwan’s Kevin Yu and China’s Marty Dou – enjoyed solid starts with rounds of 67, 67 and 68 respectively.

Yuan was pleased with his first day’s effort, which included three birdies over his closing four holes which kept him close to the lead. The closing stretch at Victoria National Golf Club, in Newburgh, Indiana, is rated among the toughest on the Tour.

“I was very pleased with how I played those holes,” he said. “Sixteen is a tough par 3 and I made a long putt there and on 18, I was glad it was a bit downwind off the tee which made it a bit easier.

“Only had a wedge into the green. If it’s straight into the wind, it’ll be a great finishing hole,” said Yuan.

Canada’s Michael Gligic has taken an early two-shot lead at the season-ending Korn Ferry Tour Championship. Photo: AFP

With one victory and three runner-up finishes, Yuan was top on the Korn Ferry Tour rankings from mid-March before being overtaken last week by Paul Haley II, who shot an opening 69 on Thursday.

Yuan knows a strong finish to his season will also be the springboard when he begins life on the PGA Tour next week, with the season-opening Fortinet Championship in Napa, California.

“For sure, we’re right around the corner next week,” he said. “If I play some solid golf, it’ll definitely bring some momentum and confidence into the PGA Tour season.”

Kiradech, a multiple winner on the DP World Tour, is playing in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, a three-events series which offers the top-25 players with PGA Tour cards, for the second straight year after failing to retain his PGA Tour card.

With seven birdies and two bogeys on the card, his current position after the first round is projected to move him up to 26th position, one rung outside the qualifying mark.