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Carl continues upward trajectory

China Daily | Updated: 2021-05-11 09:22
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Carl Yuan Yechun, pictured in action in Texas on April 23, is close to securing a PGA Tour card after notching his fifth top-10 finish of the 2020-21 Korn Ferry Tour season at a tournament in Tennessee over the weekend. GETTY IMAGES

Chinese putter closes on PGA, Olympic dreams

China's Carl Yuan Yechun took a massive step toward achieving two career goals with his third runner-up finish on the Korn Ferry Tour on Sunday.

The 24-year-old finished in a tie for second place at the Simmons Bank Open for the Snedeker Foundation at College Grove, Tennessee after signing off with a 71. His 13-under 275 total saw him end the week three strokes behind winner Austin Smotherman.

China's Marty Dou Zecheng settled for a share of 37th spot on 285 while his compatriot Bobby Bai Zhengkai came in tied 47th on 287.

Yuan's fifth top-10 of the wraparound 2020-21 Korn Ferry Tour season saw him leap from 41st place to 25th in the points standings, with the top-25 players at the end of the regular season in August earning PGA Tour cards.

Yuan's strong finish also pushed him up to 295th in the world rankings, currently not quite high enough to qualify for the 60-man field for this summer's Olympics in Tokyo.

A battling Yuan kept himself in contention throughout the final round which endured two weather delays and rainy conditions. He was in the hunt until making bogeys on 16 and 17 in difficult conditions but he bounced back with a fifth birdie of the day on the last hole.

"I felt pretty good coming into the week as I was playing solid the last few tournaments. I struggled a little bit in the weather but I managed to stay patient. A little disappointed at the end, but overall pretty satisfied. I think I played well although it is a pity I didn't win," said Yuan.

With 12 regular-season events remaining, Yuan hopes to become only the third China mainland golfer to play his way onto the PGA Tour. Representing China in the Olympic Games has also been one of his boyhood dreams, and he knows a few more good finishes before the end of the qualifying period in late June should book his Tokyo ticket.

"My performance in recent weeks has given me more chances to obtain a PGA Tour card. I have more impetus and more confidence for the coming events," said Yuan, who hails from Dalian, Liaoning province, and attended the University of Washington before turning professional.

"Having an opportunity to compete in the Olympics is very meaningful to me. One of my goals this year is to play in the Olympics and represent China, so I need to play well in the coming weeks to achieve this goal."

He credited the hard work, including mental training, that he put in during the season break for his recent good run of form, which has seen him achieve two top-10s and three top-20s in his last seven starts.

"I got my reward from my training during winter, and I will try to do better," added Yuan.

"Although the weather conditions were not good, I kept my patience. With the round being suspended on two occasions, we almost were unable to finish. I saved a few pars in tough conditions, and made birdie at the last hole."

Dou's week saw him sign off with a 70 and he moved up one rung to 33rd place on the Korn Ferry Tour rankings to enhance his chances of returning to the PGA Tour, where he played for one season in 2018.

Yuan, Dou and Bai are all in the field for this week's Visit Knoxville Open in Tennessee.

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