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Zhang swings back into form with dazzling debut

China Daily | Updated: 2020-07-21 10:20
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Zhang Xinjun of China tracks a shot during the final round of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, on Sunday. Zhang finished tied-10th with a level-par total of 288, nine shots adrift of winner Jon Rahm. AFP

Chinese ace shakes off restart rust in first visit to star-studded Memorial

China's Zhang Xinjun will cherish his first ever visit to "Jack's Place "and credits an abundance of patience for a memorable week.

In his debut at the Memorial Tournament, the 33-year-old Zhang battled daunting conditions to shoot a final round of 1-over 73 at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, on Sunday and sealed a tied-10th finish in the event hosted by golf legend Jack Nicklaus.

It was Zhang's third top-10 of the 2019-20 PGA Tour season, pushing him up to 64th place in the FedEx-Cup points list and 123rd in the world rankings-a jump of 28 places that sees him close on longtime Chinese No 1 Li Haotong, who now ranks 105th.

More importantly, it also ended a string of four missed cuts on the tour, although he had finished tied for 37th at The King & Bear Classic at World Golf Village on the Korn Ferry Tour.

"I played with great patience today. There were big winds, and not many birdie chances. I was trying to save par in the first several holes," said Zhang, whose four-day total of 288 was nine shots back of winner Jon Rahm of Spain.

After making bogeys on the sixth and 12th holes, Zhang produced two monster putts of over 40 feet on holes 13 and 15 for birdies and delivered another two-putt birdie on the par-four 14th hole after finding the green with a glorious drive.

He then dropped shots on 16 and 18 on a day when the scoring average was 75.959, the highest on the tour since the first round of the 2018 US Open (76.474).

"I had two lengthy birdies. Then, my drive on the 14th hole was perfect … it ended up on the green. It was the best shot today. On 16 and 18, it was very hard to stop the ball on the green, so it was hard to save (par). I am satisfied with my score."

This is Zhang's second season on the PGA Tour after a challenging rookie year in 2018, when he missed 16 cuts in 28 starts.

It had felt like deja vu after he endured a lean spell following the sport's three-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic-hence the relief to have turned the corner at Muirfield Village.

"I had no game, no feel after the tour resumed. My swing was a mess," said Zhang.

"I was trying to get the feelings back. I wasn't playing good during the past few weeks but gained lots of experience. I found my weaknesses and focused on them during practice. This week, I got my swing back. (Hit) solid shots which was almost the same as before the pandemic.

"I'm excited I am on track to the (FedEx Cup) playoffs. It will be my first time into the playoffs, which is a big break and a good start for me. I'm excited."

Like many other players, Zhang has adapted quickly to playing in tournaments without any spectators on site. The Shanxi province native, who won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour last season to regain his PGA card, has missed the fans but thinks it has helped him rediscover his form.

"There are good and bad points without a gallery. With people watching, I could be excited more quickly with beautiful shots. Without (fans), I can focus more on my game which is not a bad thing. I hope there will be fans watching on site (soon)," Zhang said.

Countryman Li, making his first tournament appearance since the tour's resumption, missed the cut with rounds of 74 and 77.

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