FAR HILLS, N.J. – Zecheng Dou’s hopes of following in the footsteps of compatriot Tianlang Guan were given a boost after the Chinese teenager played his way to the top of the leader board after day one of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship on Thursday at Nanshan International Golf Club in Longkou City, China.
Dou rose to prominence earlier this year when he made the cut at the China Open, as well as making the quarterfinal round of both the U.S. Amateur Public Links and U.S. Junior Amateur. He fired a bogey-free, 3-under-par 68 in cold, windy conditions to establish a two-shot lead over Chang-Woo Lee of Korea. Brady Watt of Australia, the stroke-play co-medalist and a semifinalist in this year’s U.S. Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., is three shots back after an even-par 71.
Guan, the defending champion, struggled to a 74. Oliver Goss of Australia, the runner-up at this year’s U.S. Amateur, carded a 72, along with two-time U.S. Open qualifier Cheng-Tsung Pan of Chinese Taipei. Goss, No. 7 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, is a sophomore at the University of Tennessee and Pan (No. 4 in the WAGR) is a junior at the University of Washington.
The Asia-Pacific Amateur is sanctioned by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, The R&A and Augusta National Golf Club. The champion receives an invitation to the 2014 Masters as well as an exemption into the 2014 U.S. Amateur at the Atlanta Athletic Club and an exemption out of local qualifying for the 2014 U.S. Open. The champion and runner-up are also exempt into International Final Qualifying for the 2014 British Open.
“I think I’ve improved a lot from last year, so I feel pretty confident this time,” said Dou, who finished T-18 at the 2012 Asia-Pacific Amateur. This summer, he lost to eventual runner-up Davis Riley, 4 and 2, in the Junior Amateur at the Martis Camp Club in Truckee, Calif., and to eventual champion Jordan Niebrugge, 1 down, in the APL at Laurel Hill Golf Club in Lorton, Va.
The 117-player field features four golfers in the top 25 of the WAGR.
Lee, who is No. 31 in the Ranking, continued his recent run of fine form by taking the morning lead after carding just one bogey in his round of 70. The 20-year-old, who finished alongside 2011 U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy in a tie for second at last week’s Korean Open, started his round on the more difficult inward nine and bogeyed the 13th before bouncing back in fine fashion with birdies at the first and fifth.
Watt, who lost to Goss in the U.S. Amateur semifinals and then caddied for his countryman in the 36-hole final, was in solid position after Day 1.
“It was definitely a battle out there today,” said Watt. “The scoring was a lot tougher and I just hung around and made a lot of pars.”
It was a challenge for Guan, Watt’s playing partner and the youngest player to ever make the cut in a major at the 2013 Masters. After turning at 1-under 34, the 14-year-old bogeyed the third hole then carded a costly double bogey at the seventh, where he found a hazard with his tee shot. Another bogey at the ninth added up to a 3-over 74.
“I felt like I played OK,” said Guan, No. 22 in the WAGR. “I missed a few chances but overall I’m quite happy. I have the confidence to go out and shoot a better score tomorrow.”
USGA senior staff writer David Shefter contributed to this story.