Liang leads China challenge

Liang Wen-chong sank a crucial birdie putt on Thursday to edge ahead in the Shui On Land China Golf Challenge.

Liang Wen-chong sank a long, breaking birdie putt on the 11th hole of the Dragon Course at the Red Flag Valley Golf Club in the Shui On Land China Golf Challenge on Wednesday to stay ahead after day four of this unique week-long, seven-city tournament.

And the Chinese home favourite’s fans in Dalian just loved it.

Following a trio of holes at the stunning 36-hole golf resort, which celebrated its Grand Opening earlier in the day, the Chinese number one was two-under-par and one clear of world number two Lee Westwood and fellow Englishman Ian Poulter in this unique 18-hole event.

Rory McIlroy fell further back when he again found trouble to lie seven-over, but the lively banter and camaraderie continued as the tournament flew past the halfway mark of its tour of China.

Liang, Westwood and Poulter were tied going to the day’s last hole, an uphill par-four, where the Zhongshan native took the lead with a slow, creeping putt that broke dramatically from left to right before eventually dropping into the hole to the delight of the player and large crowd.

“I think it (the putt) was about eight yards (24 feet),” said Liang, who punched the air and danced a jig across the green of the 18th hole of the Unicorn course after his epic putt.

“The putt was a bit hilly and breaking, so I just concentrated on getting the right line. I was really happy when it went in and I just hope I can keep playing well in Chongqing.”

Liang, 33, said the three holes over the Red Flag Valley’s hilly Dragon and Unicorn layouts presented the week’s toughest on-course challenge so far.

“I was up and down on these three holes as this was the most challenging day,” said Liang, who dropped his first shot of the event at the day’s second hole, a downhill par-five converted to a par-four.

“We haven’t seen these holes before so we had to work hard. It’s a very good golf course, so challenging, and has a very good resort. It’s all very high quality.”

McIlroy’s dramatic tour of China continued when he recorded a double-bogey six at the 10th hole, flying out of a bunker over the green and into a steep bank.

Climbing up through the rough, he chipped onto the green but smiled ruefully as his ball trickled over the far side and back into the same sand trap, from where he had just blasted out of. Poulter cheekily described his score as “an impressive six”.

“I actually played pretty good today,” McIlroy said. “I just had one bad shot out of the bunker on the 10th which killed me. I made a double bogey there, which is a bit of an improvement because I’ve been making triple-bogeys earlier in the week! I haven’t been eight-over after 10 holes for quite a few years, so it was nice to birdie the last.”

McIlroy continues to endear himself to fans with his engaging personality and the popular 22-year-old admitted he was committed to helping the game grow in the world’s most populous nation.

“The guys want to make it a little bit competitive, but there’s much more to the tournament than that. The Shui On Land China Golf Challenge is about spreading the game in China and letting people see what golf has to offer over here. That’s the most important thing. I couldn’t care if I was eight-over or eight-under.

“Obviously it would be nice to win, but for us it’s more about the whole experience and making sure we enjoy it and making sure it’s enjoyable for the people who watch us.”

McIlroy believes golf’s inclusion in the 2016 Olympics has helped increase the sport’s acceptance and recognition across China, which was the top medal winner at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008.

“For golf to be included in the Olympics was a huge boost for the game over here. People recognise it more as a sport when it’s part of the Chinese Olympic programme,” McIlroy said.

“If it isn’t a sport in the Olympic programme, it’s not as accessible, so being in the Olympics makes so many more people in the place like China want to play the game.”

From Dalian, the players were scheduled to take late-night flights on two Bombardier jets to Chongqing, where they will play three holes at Sun Kingdom Golf Club on Friday.

The Shui On Land China Golf Challenge is being filmed by IMG Media and showcased on Golfing World.