A jubilant Lai Hong Lin outclassed the rest of the field with a 73 for a 36 hole total of 146 in the Volvo China Open's final qualifying competition at the Beijing CBD International Golf Club.
With the hard fast greens and the swirling wind taking their toll on scores, the 35-year-old experienced campaigner from Chinese Taipei finished a massive 15 shots clear of his nearest rival, amateur Xu Wenjun. Another amateur, Li Xiaolong, took the third and final spot for next week's US$1.8 million Volvo China Open. He finished a further three shots back.
"The course is very tough but the wind made it even tougher," said Lai. "I played well today, better than yesterday even though my score was the same. One of my friends and even members from my club in Xian came and followed me round today and that gave me a lot of encouragement. At the end I got a lot of calls of congratulations."
Lai will join an elite field from April 13-16, at the Nick Faldo-designed Beijing Hong Hua International Golf Club including 28 players who have won a total of 50 tournaments between them headed by defending champion Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson, ranked 12th in the world.
"I will just focus on trying to make the cut," he said. "If I do that, I can then start to think about how to improve my position over the final two rounds. I am just very happy to get the chance to play again in the Open after such a long time away."
Lai finished runner-up in the inaugural Volvo China Open in 1995, missing out by two shots to champion Raul Fretes of Paraguay.
Hopes were high that top female pro, Zhong Xiaolong, would squeeze into third place. Needing just a par five at the final hole to tie for the final spot, she found a greenside bunker with her third shot. Her chances completely evaporated when she took another four shots for a double bogey to finish just two shots outside the leading trio.
"It's a very long, difficult course here and I really tried my best," said Zhong. "I missed out by two shots last year and did the same again this year. I will be back next year to try again. It's great to get an opportunity like this."
Also missing out by just two shots on one of the coveted spots was the Volvo China Junior champion for his age group, 14 year old Fu Zhongyang.
All 10 places available in the Volvo China Open, via qualifying rounds, have now been decided with five spots going to players from Chinese Taipei and five spots to Chinese mainland players.
(China Daily 04/08/2006 page11)