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Gatto takes control at Omega China Tour Q-School
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Young American C.J. Gatto shot a four-under-par 68 for a three-shot lead after the first round of the 36-hole Omega China Tour Qualifying School for foreign PGA professionals at Palm Island Resort in Guangdong.

South Korean Lee Joung-wook posted a 71 to end the day one ahead of Jovick Lee Wing-kei and James Stewart of Hong Kong, China, Englishman Nick Redfern and New Zealander Kelvin Jones.

Hong Kong-based David Freeman posted a 74 to share seventh place with Singaporean Goh Kun Yang and Koreans Eom Hae-woong and Gong Wang-sik.

The second and final round will be held on Tuesday, with the top 10 earning a full card for the Omega China Tour's fifth season.

The 23-year-old Gatto, who graduated last year from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, only moved to Shenzhen in Novemberto start up a golf academy with David Leadbetter's son, Andy, his best friend and former roommate.

Gatto teed off on hole 10 and shot three birdies on the back nine, bagging two more birdies on the front nine and recording a solitary bogey on hole five.

"I'm really happy with my 68, as I played really well. I enjoyed my round today and I'm just really excited to be in China. It has been a lot of fun so far," said Gatto, whose initials stand for Christopher Joseph.

"I have to do it all again, but I'm looking forward to it. There are some really good players here like Nick Redfern, who I played with earlier this week. He was pretty impressive," added Gatto, who will play in Tuesday's final flight with the two Lees.

Lee Joung-wook, who also teed off on 10, was also three-under after nine but dropped two shots on the front nine.

"I started well, but my putting was a problem on the second nine. Overall, I'm happy considering it's my first competitive event since last May," said the 34-year-old, who moved to Shenzhen late last year after 10 years in Auckland.

"The course is nice, similar to some of the ones I played in New Zealand," added Lee, who spent the past two years competing in New Zealand and Australia.

Jovick Lee, who won last year's Qualifying School, bagged two birdies on the front nine and despite two bogeys on the back nine, the 28-year-old was happy with his round.

"After six holes, I said something has to happen and I picked up two good birdies on seven and eight and almost got another on nine," said Lee, a teaching pro at Hong Kong Golf Club.

Redfern, one of 16 Hong Kong-based professionals among the 37-strong field, credited his wife and caddie, Yvette, for his even-par round.

"I was steady today, nothing special," said the 36-year-old, who finished 19th in last year's Omega Order of Merit. "My wife kept me in it. She made some good reads on the greens."

Stewart, joint runner-up in last year's Qualifying School, had a front nine of 39, but bounced back with a second-nine 33, which featured an eagle on the par-five 10th. "I only hit two great shots, which earned me an eagle and a birdie," said Stewart, a former Asian Tour player.

Among those looking to break into the top 10 on Tuesday are Hong Kong-based Andrew Good, who shot 75, former European Tour player Max Kellner, who shot 76, and South African Jason Robertson, who posted a 78 after making the turn in one-over.

The diverse field comprises eight Americans, seven South Koreans, six each from Britain and Canada, three New Zealanders, two each from South Africa and Australia, and players from Germany, Singapore and Norway.

The Tour has become more competitive since offering places for foreign PGA members living in Greater China last year, which also marked the first full season that two players were invited from each of Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong and Macao.

Palm Island Resort has 27 holes and is situated in the Hui Yang District in eastern Guangdong, just 40 minutes from the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border.

(Xinhua News Agency Feburary 10, 2009)

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