Non-playing captain Tim Sung insists his young Chinese Taipei team have “just come here for learning”, but at the halfway stage of the 27th Nomura Cup at Yas Links Abu Dhabi, they are the ones taking their rivals to school.
– Hong Kong: Hao-tong hopes to be China's first Major winner
– Nomura Cup: Cheng Jin puts Augusta dreams to one side
– Abu Dhabi: Yas praised by A-P Confederation chairman
After sharing the first round lead with Japan at 18-under par, Chinese Taipei continued to shock even themselves on Saturday by forging to a five shot lead on top of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Golf Team Championship leaderboard.
Led by Han-Ting Chiu’s 65, the lowest round of the day, the Chinese Taipei quartet returned a best three-of-four card team aggregate of seven-under par 209. That left them with a 36-hole total of 407, a combined 25-under-par, with Japan in second on 412 and Thailand in third a further seven shots adrift on 419.
Ten-time Nomura Cup champions Australia have found the early going tough at Yas Links. Australia were sixth, a whopping 20 shots off the pace, while New Zealand were slightly better in fifth place on 425.
The UAE endured a tough day, with teenager Ahmed Skaik’s 79 the highlight as the host slipped behind. Rashid Hamood (80), Khalid Yousuf (82) and Abdulla Al Qubaisi (non-counting 86) will look to do much better over the weekend with the UAE on 463.
Despite captain Sung’s modest objectives, Taipei were always going to be a force, considering they won the gold medal at last year’s Asian Games in South Korea.
Yu, who backed up his 63 on Thursday with a 71, is the only survivor from that victorious team. But the well of amateur golf talent is obviously deep in Chinese Taipei as Chiu, Yu, Yung-Hua Liu (73) and Sun-Yi Lu (a non-counting 76) have shown.
Chiu tops the individual leaderboard on 132, 12-under par, while Yu shares second place on 134 alongside Thailand’s Witchayanon Chothirunrungrueng and Japan’s Daisuke Matsubara.
Sung was understandably thrilled with Chinese Taipei’s early play.
“It’s a low score, a lovely score,” said Sung who was captain the last time Chinese Taipei won the Nomura Cup, 18 years ago in 1997.
“We had a great start in the first round, 18-under par. Today, we had a little struggle.
“Actually I didn’t expect we can win here even though we are the Asian Games champions. The Nomura Cup is tough competition with Australia New Zealand, Japan, South Korea… they are all good teams. We have only one player from the Asia Games and two very young, inexperienced players.”
Christofer Blomstrand’s sensational debut in the MENA Golf Tour ended with a podium finish on Wednesday as he won the inaugural Muscat Hills Golf Citizen Championship.
Leading by two shots overnight, the 23-year-old Swede had the luxury of bogeying the final hole and still winning the tournament by one shot on 11-under par after his nearest challenger, Germany’s Julian Kunzenbacher, agonisingly missed a 16-footer for birdie.
Spain’s Xavier Puig fired a course record 66 to finish third on eight-under, one ahead of Morocco’s Younes El Hassani, Ryan Smith of Australia and Per Barth of Sweden.
With his game on cruise control, Blomstrand never relinquished his overnight lead and made putts when he needed to make to complete a brilliant win, his second since turning professional three years ago.
“It feels just incredible to win here. I had a great week. Every part of my game fell into place, which was good,” said Blomstrand after receiving the winner’s trophy from Mohamed Juma Buamaim, chairman of the MENA Golf Tour, and Ray Stopforth, director of golf at Muscat Hills and Country Club.
“I never really felt threatened and played my own game. I could smell the victory when I birdied the 16th. Standing on the 18th, I had a two-shot lead. Though I three-putted, it was still good enough to get the job done,” said the Swede, who shot a final-round 70.
Germany’s Kunzenbacher went for broke in the last few holes. The aggressive approach worked well on the 16th where he picked up a shot, but missed his birdie bid at the last which would have forced a play-off.
Morocco’s El Hassani closed with a 71 to win the MENA Division on seven-under, four clear of second-placed Amine Joudar as Amine El Malki, also of Morocco, carded a 69 to join his compatriot Ayoub Lguirati and India’s Rayhan Thomas in a three-way tie for the leading amateur award on one-under.
Cheng Jin might have Augusta National on his mind but insists his immediate focus is on Abu Dhabi and China’s bid to finally win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Golf Team Championship.
Jin will spearhead China’s tilt for a maiden Nomura Cup title at Yas Links Abu Dhabi starting on Thursday, fresh from winning the weather-shortened Asia Pacific individual amateur men’s title in Hong Kong earlier this month.
The victory earned the 17-year-old a dream start in next April’s Masters at Augusta National where he will trade blows with the world’s best professionals including defending champion Jordan Spieth.
It’s head-spinning stuff for one so young but the talented teen appears to be taking it all in his stride at Yas Links where 27, four-man teams tee it up today in the opening round of the 72-hole teams strokeplay event.
“Augusta is the dream of every golfer I guess and I think when I step there next year, it is just going to be so exciting,” Jin said.
“I’m excited about everything. Every round I play there, how the course is going to look like and the facilities and Augusta itself…everything. They are best players in the world so I’m just going to try to learn from them and enjoy the tournament and enjoy the time I play with them.”
For now, Jin is focused on leading China’s bid for their first Nomura Cup victory. It will be a monumental feat if China do win.
Australia have won a record 10 Nomura Cups, including seven of the last eight titles, so they are the firm favourites this week. Australia’s Trans-Tasman neighbours New Zealand, eight time champions Japan and Chinese Taipei all intend having a say in the outcome of the championship.
Jin certainly appears to have the game to put China in contention. His victory at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Hong Kong included a sizzling opening round, course-record 62 at Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club. He followed it up with rounds of 68-69 for a one shot lead heading into the final round which was eventually abandoned.
But for now, Jin is focused on the Nomura Cup. He played at the last edition in Thailand in 2013 and won selection for the prestigious Sir Michael Bonallack Trophy on the back of his form there.
Jin isn’t predicting how China will perform at Yas Links, but is looking forward to the week.
“It’s my first time here in Abu Dhabi and I couldn’t wait to go out on the golf course,” he added. “I enjoy playing team events even though we don’t get to play them a lot, the kind of feeling you get from spending time with your teammates, it’s different from when you play individual events. I’m always proud to represent my country.”
The lowest three of four scores count towards the team total on each day of the 72-hole stroke-play tournament which is second only to the Eisenhower Trophy world amateur teams’ championship in terms of size and global stature.