China tour powering big drive in local talent

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 Li Haotong of China.

The PGA Tour China Series began in 2014 and by all accounts is ahead of schedule in developing homegrown talent.

Last year, Li Haotong was one shot out of the lead going into the final round of the HSBC Champions and played with reigning Masters and US Open champion Jordan Spieth. After a rough start with a nation watching, Li shot 72 and tied for seventh.

This year, the honor went to Zhang Xinjun, who opened with rounds of 68-69. He received a larger gallery than he might have expected because he was in the same group as Rory McIlroy.

Zhang matched McIlroy with a 70 before fading to a 76 in the final round to tie for 21st.

"It's great for the tournament," McIlroy said. "I knew the atmosphere of the day was going to be a bit bigger than it has been, especially playing with Zhang.

"It's nice they have a local. They came out to watch him and support him, and I was along. So it was a bonus that we played together.

"All the kids watching, it can only inspire them to try to emulate the local hero, as well as guys like us."

Li won four times in China in the inaugural year to advance to the Tour, where he was 49th on the money list. He was playing the Tour again this year until he won the Volvo China Open to secure his European Tour card.

He's at the Turkish Airlines Open this week as part of the Final Series on the Race to Dubai.

Zhang is No 5 on the China money list, hopeful of staying there for the second half of the season so he can advance to the Tour.

"This is what we hoped would happen," said Paul Johnson, head of international affairs for the PGA Tour.

"It just happened sooner than we thought. When we built the platform, we thought it would take five years. Some of these guys have shot through more quickly."

Next in line is Dou Zecheng. He already has won four times on the PGA Tour China Series to easily top the money list. Dou is virtually a lock to be on the Tour next year, and he should have status all year.

For Dou, coming to America won't be too great of a shock to the system. He once lived in Canada, and played several junior events in the US. He saw the PGA Tour China Series as his best route to the Tour.

"It's developing fast," he said of the three-year-old circuit.

"It seems like every winning score was 20 under. It's getting harder, and there's more foreign guys coming to play. A lot better players are coming over."

Notable numbers

World's best

1. Jason Day (AUS)

2. Rory McIlroy (NIR)

3. Dustin Johnson (USA)

4. Henrik Stenson (SWE)

5. Jordan Spieth (USA)

6. Hideki Matsuyama (JPN)

7. Adam Scott (AUS)

8. Patrick Reed (USA)

9. Bubba Watson (USA)

10. Danny Willett (ENG)

China's best

158. Wu Ashun

180. Dou Zecheng

185. Li Haotong

283. Liang Wenchong

359. Zhang Xinjun

Order of Merit of PGA Tour China Series

1. Dou Zecheng (CHN) 1,069,920 yuan

2. Charlie Saxon (USA) 549,495

3. Gunn Charoenkul (THA) 401,572

4. Alexander Kang (USA)381,575

5. Zhang Xinjun (CHN) 319,575

6. Kim Tae-woo (KOR) 319,200

7. Chen Zihao (CHN) 306,218

8. Maxwell McCardle (AUS) 304,760

9.Jarin Todd (USA) 291,311

10. Rohan Blizard (AUS) 285,666

11. Paul Imondi (USA) 237,584

12. Justin Shin (CAN) 234,066

13. Zhang Huilin (CHN) 210,670

14. Shun Yat Hak (HKG) 207,029

15. Mathew Perry (NZL) 164,414

16. Lee Seung-yun (KOR) 164,132

17. Daniel Pearce (NZL) 154,156

18. Yoon Se-jun (KOR) 147,780

19. Su Dong (CHN) 144,744

20. Cho Rak-hyun (KOR) 129,867

(Season has four more tournaments on the China Series)

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