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Zhang in the winning groove

China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-18 09:57
China's Zhang Xinjun, who will play on the PGA Tour next year, won the Web.com Tour's Lincoln Land Championship in Springfield, Illinois on Sunday by beating Dylan Wu in a playoff. [Photo/PGA TOUR]

PGA-bound ace overflowing with confidence after second victory of year

During his three years on the PGA Tour Series-China, Zhang Xinjun had a couple of wins-but they were overshadowed by his six runner-up finishes.

That trend continued during his inaugural season on the Web.com Tour in 2017, when he added two more second-place performances.

The native of Shaanxi province might not have liked it, but he was earning a reputation for coming close without clinching.

Now those close calls seem to be a thing of the past as Zhang won his second Web.com Tour tournament of the season on Sunday, outlasting Dylan Wu on the third sudden-death playoff hole to capture the Lincoln Land Championship in Springfield, Illinois.

The victory is a nice bookend to his April triumph in the Dormie Network Classic in San Antonio, Texas.

Zhang carded a final-round 65 at Panther Creek to force a playoff with Wu, then prevailed by making birdie on the third extra hole.

After dropping to third on the Web.com Tour points list after briefly holding down top spot, Zhang is again No 1, 162 points ahead of his closest pursuer, Robby Shelton.

Zhang is also the tour's leading money winner, earning $380,226 this season, approximately $60,000 more than Shelton.

"This confirms that we belong out here and even on the PGA Tour," said Zhang, who has already locked up his PGA Tour membership for next season.

"Things that I've been working on, like ball-striking and putting, went well today. It puts me in a great mindset going to the tour next year.

"It's not very often that you get to be in a playoff going for the win. Being in that environment is a great learning experience, feeling the emotion and the intensity of it."

Zhang twice lost playoffs on the PGA Tour Series-China, dropping a three-man showdown to Brett Drewitt (Li Haotong was the third player) at the 2014 Wuhan Open and losing to Dou Zecheng in Henan province in 2016.

There was no such disappointment on Sunday, with Zhang's victory coming on Father's Day and with his wife, Chang Hong, expecting the couple's second child, a son, later this month.

"At the beginning of the week I set a goal that if I finished T3 or better I can take next week off to go home a little early to see my wife and my family," said Zhang, who turned 32 on Monday.

"It just makes it that much sweeter. This win is really for her; she is holding down the fort at home-obviously going through being pregnant, but also taking care of our daughter, Vanessa, at the same time."

Including the three-hole playoff, Zhang went bogey-free and had 14 birdies over his final 41 holes.

Though he had some dramatic shots in the playoff, Zhang's best shot of the day may have been earlier, at the par-5 16th.

After a great tee shot, he caught the lip of the bunker on his approach. He managed to stick his third shot to inside two feet for a tap-in birdie that gave him a share of the lead.

"We knew where we stood going into 16 and knew it was the best opportunity for birdie coming in," said Zhang.

"When I caught the bunker I got a little frustrated, but I talked to my caddie, who calmed me down. He gave me the confidence to hit a good bunker shot and I was able to stick it to about two feet and make the birdie putt."

Competing in just his second career Web.com Tour event, Wu used a flurry of birdies down the stretch-including five over his last eight holes-to force a playoff at 15-under.

The Northwestern University alumnus drained a crucial five-footer to save par on the second hole to extend the playoff before falling on the third.

The 22-year-old made a 15-foot birdie on his 72nd hole to post at 15-under, finishing about an hour before the leader's group finished.

"I did not have a good tee shot on the 18th; still had about 210 yards in. But I told my caddie that I was going for this flag," said Wu.

"It's all about seizing the opportunity. I actually played the first two events this season up on the Mackenzie Tour (PGA Tour Canada) and was signed up to play the third one this week but got in (to the Lincoln Land Championship) on the alternate list.

"I took a red-eye flight to arrive on Tuesday morning and had a great week."

Zhang will get on a plane this week too-but instead of going to a tournament, he'll start a well-earned vacation.

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