Zhang Misses by One, Choi in the Hunt at Masters

ZhangApril 10: Asian Tour star Zhang Lian-wei agonisingly missed the cut at the Masters by one shot on Friday as Korea’s Choi Kyung-ju played his way into Augusta National record books and moved into contention in the year’s first Major.

Zhang, the first player from China to play at the famed Augusta layout, shot a commendable even par 72 to add to his opening 77. But it proved to be one shot too many.

Playing in the final group of the day with Germany’s two-time Masters winner Bernhard Langer and Spaniard Sergio Garcia, the self-taught Chinese golfer needed to birdie the last hole to squeeze in right on the cut mark of four-over-par 148 but he left his 25-foot attempt short of the hole.

He produced a courageous display after turning in 39 and tamed the notorious Amen Corner which launched his fightback. Zhang birdied the par three 12th, eagled the tricky par five 13th but dropped a shot on 14. He recovered with a birdie on 15 and parred home for an inward 33.

A total of 44 players qualified for the weekend play and Zhang, along with several other notable names including reigning champion Mike Weir and Darren Clarke, would have squeezed in if two players in the group ahead of Zhang’s flight dropped shots.

As it turned out, John Daly, who was four-over walking up the 18th, dropped a bogey to miss the cut as well but playing partners Padraig Harrington and Vijay Singh safely parred and earned tee times for the third round right at the cut-off mark. If one of them had dropped a bogey, the cut would have been 149.

Still, Zhang’s historic appearance at the Masters will certainly raise the profile of golf in Asia and also in his homeland.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” said the 38-year-old Zhang. “But for my country, it’s only the beginning. “Young players will improve and one day reach a higher level. There are a lot of kids starting to play the game in China and when they see this on television it will help golf in China.

“Golf has only developed in the past 20 years. For me to play in the Masters is something we’re all proud of,” said Zhang, who organises an annual championship in Shenzhen for young children in his bid to promote the game.

Choi Kyung JuAs Zhang prepared to leave his rented home at Augusta, once used by the legendary ‘Slamming’ Sam Snead, Choi, who cut his professional teeth in Asia before achieving fame with two wins on the US PGA Tour, played his way into Augusta’s folklore.

Choi fired a front nine 30 to tie the Augusta record held by Johnny Miller (1975) and Greg Norman (1988). But he stumbled on the back nine with four bogeys and settled for a 70 and two-day score of 141 for tied fourth place with Phil Mickelson, three shots behind leader Justin Rose

“When I started out the day today, I just thought, let’s have an easy day, a good start. Even par would have been a good score. But as I got going, I kept making birdies. I just felt more comfortable out there.

“The four bogeys that I made on the back nine, I take it as a lesson before tomorrow (third round). I’m looking at it very positively. It was a very good experience for me. Playing along Amen Corner, the way that I played it, I think it??s going to actually help me in the third and fourth round,” said Choi, who finished tied 15th in his maiden Masters appearance last season.

Germany’s Alex Cejka and former winner Jose Maria Olazabal share second place on 140, two behind leader Rose while Ernie Els, chasing his first Masters title, finished on 142. World number one Tiger Woods rebounded form an opening 75 to shoot a 69 for a two-day total of 144.