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    • Charoenkul holds off Zhang to win Yulongwan Yunnan Open

    • Gunn Charoenkul closed with twin 66s to win by three at Yulongwan Golf Club. Gunn Charoenkul closed with twin 66s to win by three at Yulongwan Golf Club.

    KUNMING, China -- Gunn Charoenkul realized Sunday that birdies -- at least enough of them -- can beat eagles. Charoenkul survived a three-eagle day by Xin Jun Zhang and pulled away late with three consecutive birdies over his final three holes to defeat Zhang by three shots and win the Yulongwan Yunnan Open. The victory was Charoenkul’s first on the PGA TOUR China Series and his fourth overall title in 2014 to go with three Asian Tour wins.

    “I’m really excited right now. My first intention when I came here this week was to try all the new stuff I have been practicing on and seeing whether it was working,” said the 22-year-old Thai native, who turned pro at age 18. “I played much better than I expected.

    “Winning the trophy was not really the most important thing to me,” continued Charoenkul, who worked on his game by himself for three seasons before turning to Shane Gillespie, the head instructor of the TOUR Academy’s International Development, this season, “I’ve been improving my game at the moment, and I’m really happy about the way I’m progressing.”   

    Don’t get him wrong, though. The crystal trophy Charoenkul kissed on the 18th green following the victory and the ¥216,000 first-place check that will go in his bank account didn’t hurt.

    Zhang set a PGA TOUR China Series record by making three eagles in his final round and remained in contention even after losing his 36-hole lead to Charoenkul. Yet every time Zhang looked like he might overtake Charoenkul, the Bangkok resident had an answer.

    Charoenkul opened the final round with a two-shot lead over Zhang, and he grew his lead to four strokes when he made the turn heading to No. 10. Charoenkul then watched as Zhang slowly chipped away. A Zhang birdie at No. 10 and an eagle at No. 13 cut Charoenkul’s advantage to two strokes, and a Zhang birdie at No. 14 to Charoenkul’s par tightened things even further. That’s when Charoenkul became serious. He picked up some breathing room at No. 15 when he parred to Zhang’s bogey then removed any doubt as to who was the best player this week when he finished birdie-birdie-birdie to nail down the win.

    “Zhang had a great second shot on the par-5, the 16th, hitting to about 10 feet for eagle. He was only trailing by one. At that moment, I knew I had tension coming up,” Charoenkul added. Zhang missed a birdie putt at the par-3 17th, and when Charoenkul poured his in for birdie after hitting his tee shot close, Charoenkul allowed himself to relax -- just a little. “I felt comfortable playing on 18 after I managed to make the putt on 17,” he explained.

    “I thought I still had a chance until the 17th. I fired toward the flag, and it seemed very well. I made a good putt, but Gunn grabbed the birdie,” Zhang said.

    Even with Zhang’s runner-up finish, his third of the season to go with his win at the Earls Beijing Open, he earned ¥129,600 and widened his Order of Merit lead to more than ¥300,000 over Brett Drewitt, who tied for 13th this week.

    “I never conceded, and I’m pretty satisfied by what I did today. Gunn just played very well over four rounds,” Zhang added.

    “There were times when I thought I could run away from the field, but [Zhang] kept pushing me and putting pressure on me,” Charoenkul noted. “It was an enjoyable game and a great experience playing with him. He is a great player.”

    Zhang made a mockery of Yulongwan Golf Club’s five par-5s. In the first two rounds, he had birdie on every par-5 he played. Then Sunday, he eagled three of the five par-5s, birdied No. 10 and parred No. 5. Overall, Zhang finished at 22-under for the tournament, and he was 19-under on the par-5s.

    “The conditions were really perfect out here. If the rough was longer, it would have played much tougher,” Charoenkul added. “The greens were soft during the first three rounds, which really opened up for the players to go for the pins. It was a little firmer today, so I was trying to play conservative. But Zhang was putting so much pressure on me that I had to play more aggressive.”

    Finishing alone in third place was Chien Yao Hung, who continued his solid play with another top-10 finish. Hung, a Taiwan native, tied for eighth at the Buick Open and tied for seventh at the Earls Beijing Open in his only other PGA TOUR China Series’ starts.

    Final-Round Notes

    - Australia’s Scott Barr made the fifth hole-in-one of the PGA TOUR China Series season when he aced the sixth hole Sunday at Yulongwan Golf Club. That was the end of a three-hole stretch that saw him go birdie-birdie-eagle. Barr went on to tie for 13th, just missing his third consecutive top-10. Barr tied for fourth and tied for seventh in his previous two starts.

    - The round of the day belonged to Thailand’s Pariya Junhasavasdikul, who fired an 11-under 61 Sunday to tie for 15th in his PGA TOUR China Series debut. Junhasavasdikul began the day at even-par and tied for 56th. He birdied his last three holes and five of his final six. The 61 matched the score champion Gunn Charoenkul shot in the first round, with both players holding the PGA TOUR China Series 18-hole scoring record.

    - Todd Baek shot a 2-over 74 Sunday and tied for 15th, a solid showing after playing the entire week with a broken toe. On Wednesday night in his hotel room, Baek broke his toe when he smashed it against his bed.

    - Australia’s Bryden MacPherson and Thailand’s Pariya Junhasavasdikul both shot back-nine 30s Sunday, the low nines of the day. MacPherson had an eagle and four birdies on the inward nine, while Junhasavasdikul had seven birdies and a bogey.

    - Prior to Gunn Charoenkul’s victory at the Yulongwan Yunnan Open, the highest PGA TOUR China Series finish by a Thai player was the tie for 15th Charoenkul and Arnond Vongvanij had at the Earls Beijing Open.

    - Gunn Charoenkul became the sixth different PGA TOUR China Series winner this season, depriving Xin Jun Zhang of a second victory to go with his Earls Beijing Open title. Other past champions’ results this week: Brett Drewitt (United Investment Real Estate Wuhan Open) tied for 13th, Sam Chien (Buick Open) tied for 27th, David McKenzie (Lanhai Open) tied for 32nd and J.H. Wang (Mission Hills Haikou Open) tied for 41st.

    - Xin Jun Zhang continued his streak of par-or-better rounds on the PGA TOUR China Series. With his 5-under 67 Sunday, Zhang ran his stretch to 11 consecutive. He has also been under par in his last eight rounds. Of his 22 rounds in 2014, 13 have been in the 60s.

    - Since his opening-round 75 at the Earls Beijing Open, Chien Yao Hung has had seven consecutive rounds in the 60s and a 67.29 stroke average during that span. Hung shot rounds of 65-69-67-68 this week on his way to a career-best finish.

    - William Liu was the only amateur to make the cut. He tied for 53rd after his 1-over 73 Sunday.

    - Former University of Oregon player T.K. Kim shot his fourth consecutive under-70 round when he fired a 3-under 69 to go with the 69 he turned in Saturday. Kim, who became a pro at the beginning of this year, earned his first PGA TOUR China Series top-10 by tying for fourth, easily bettering his tie-for-12th performance at the Mission Hills Haikou Open.

    - American Ben Lein recorded his first top-10 when the Diamond Bar, Calif., native tied for seventh. Lein established a career-best 18-hole score this week, shooting a 66 in both the first and final rounds.

    - At 10 a.m., during the final round, officials stopped play for three minutes so everybody on site at the Yulongwan Golf Club could observe a moment of silence in memory of the victims from the Yunnan Province earthquake a week earlier.

    - After going two consecutive rounds with every player making at least one bogey, South Korea’s T.K. Kim broke that streak, playing bogey-free Sunday. Only four players enjoyed rounds with no bogeys this week.

    Bogey-free rounds (4)
    First Round (3): Lucas Lee, David Lutterus, Song Zhu
    Second Round (0)
    Third Round (0)
    Fourth Round (1): T.K. Kim  

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