Haikou, China: When the final round of the Mission Hills Haikou Open teed-off, there appeared to be a sliver of hope that someone could catch JH Wang, who held a seven-shot lead when the day began. Zhang Xinjun had cut Wang’s advantage to three shots at one point on the front nine, and it seemed there might be a battle.
Then the 18-year-old Wang, who played like a veteran campaigner, put his foot on the gas one last time, essentially lapping the field and winning the inaugural event on the China Tour – PGA Tour China series by 10 strokes.
Although he’s reticent to speak English, as he pulled his ball out of the cup on his 72nd hole after making one last birdie, Wang put both fists into the air and yelled: ‘Yes!’
While the Series’ record book is new, Wang’s margin-of-victory total may last a while. After sharing the first-round lead with two others, Wang was just better than everybody else over the final 54 holes at Mission Hills Golf Club’s Sandbelt Trails Course, essentially blowing away the field.
“I will go back home tomorrow and have a party with my family,” said the Seoul native. “I am so happy to win the first event of the PGA Tour China. I never thought I could win before I came here. I just tried my best to play every shot. I am very satisfied with a 10-stroke win. It builds my confidence for the next event.”
The day’s only intrigue occurred early on the front nine, as Wang watched his advantage drop to three strokes when Zhang eagled the par-five eighth hole to move to five-under for the day. At that point, Wang was only even-par through his seven holes.
Wang seized back control on the ninth hole, while Zhang was on 10. Wang rolled in a short birdie putt on the par-five, while Zhang was making bogey on the 10th – a two-shot swing that gave Wang a five-stroke cushion.
“I had no idea [Zhang] made eagle at eight. The first time I saw a leaderboard was on number nine and I was five shots ahead,” said Wang, who then birdied 11 and 12 and cruised home.
He shot a five-under 31 on the back nine, adding birdies on 15 and 16 and an exclamation-point, tap-in birdie on the par-five 18th for a closing 66.
“I knew I was only three strokes behind Wang on the front nine,” said Zhang, who finished alone in second. “I saw the leaderboard, and I knew maybe I had a chance to catch him. But when I got to the back nine, my putting was not very good, and I missed a lot of chances.”
At the same time, Wang was just warming up. “He played amazing this week,” added Zhang, of Wang. “Twenty-three under is an amazing score.”
How amazing? Wang was the only player in the field with four rounds in the 60s, he made just six bogeys all week and was under par for the week on the par-fours (3.73) and par-fives (4.25). On the par-threes his stroke average was exactly three.
Australian Ray Beaufils was another player who entertained thoughts of making a run until a double-bogey on nine ended his chances. “In this sport you just never know. Anything can happen. But, honestly, I don’t think anybody in the world could have beaten [Wang] this week,” said Beaufils, who shared third place with Steve Dartnall.