Zhang Lian-wei lifted Chinese hopes of a first home winner of the BMW Asian Open after a birdie at the last took him into a share of the halfway lead with Robert-Jan Derksen in Shanghai.
Zhang, the grand master of Chinese golf who in 2003 became the first player from the Middle Kingdom to win on The European Tour International Schedule when he won in Singapore, holed a 25 foot birdie putt on the 18th at Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club to match the Dutchman’s three under par round of 69 and 36 hole total of 139.
Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke also shot a three under par 69 to finish just one off the pace at four under par 140, while overnight leader Peter O’Malley, of Australia, came in with a round of 74 and finished at three under par 141 alongside England’s Miles Tunnicliff, who shot a 70 late in the day.
A testing wind swept across Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club throughout the day, so any sub-70 scores were cherished on day two of the event sanctioned by The European Tour, Asian Tour and China Golf Association.
Mark Brown, winner of the Johnnie Walker Classic, fared the best in the conditions with a round of 67 to once again put himself in a challenging position going into the weekend. The New Zealander finished at two under par in a group of six players that includes double US Open Champion, Retief Goosen, last week’s joint runner-up Oliver Wilson, and more Chinese hopes in the form of Liang Wen-chong and amateur Hu Mu.
Zhang said: “It’s quite early to say what will happen but I’m so glad to see Liang and Hu Mu at two under, especially Hu Mu who is still an amateur. Hopefully, all of us can perform well at the weekend.”
With Zhang, Laing and Hu all challenging for the title, China will be going for a clean sweep of the medals this weekend in the last tournament before the Olympic Games comes to China in August.
“I’m proud of the Olympics coming up in August and I’m glad to see a few Chinese players on top of the leaderboard,” added Zhang. “It’s nice, and compared to the past, it’s a very exciting weekend coming up.
“I’m going to try my best for the gold. If I can pick up a medal on Sunday, I’ll be very happy.”
Zhang was also the only player to be bogey free at the end of the day and gave credit to his young caddie, one of the top Chinese amateurs, Su Dong. “He also caddied last week and it is nice to see the amateurs wanting to come out and learn, not only from me but from the other players as well,” said Zhang.
Derksen, who last won on The European Tour International Schedule three years ago, when he captured his second title at the Madeira Islands Open, got off to a great start with birdies at the tenth and 11th holes and thereafter picked up another three shots with just two bogeys on the card for a round of 69.
“I was very pleased,” said the Dutchman. “I got off to a good start and it was very difficult conditions but I hung in there so I’m pleased to be leading.
“It is important to hit fairways and I did that well today. That meant I didn’t always hit driver and preferred to hit a longer shot in. The greens are firm and downwind it is tough to stop the ball. A few holes you can attack which I did and it worked out well but pars are pretty good and if you can make the odd birdie that is good.
“Putting has been good this week and that is a key and if I can continue then I should have a chance on Sunday. There is a long way to go and it is good to be on the right side.”
Clarke is also benefitting from improved putting and took 29 putts for a second successive day on his way to a round of 69 and four under par score of 140.
“The course was very difficult with that breeze and it was very difficult to get the ball close to the hole, so anything under 70 was a very good and I am very pleased,” said the Ryder Cup player.
“I haven’t holed the world but 29 putts yesterday and 29 again today which is a lot better than the 32, 33 which I have been averaging this year. I worked with a guy last week on my alignment and it feels a lot better so hopefully I can keep on doing it and holing a lot more.”
Surprisingly it is Clarke’s first visit to China and so far things are going well on a course he saw for the first time this week.
“I think it is a great golf course,” he said. “It is very demanding and if you miss one shot and get yourself out of position you have got to really battle to make par. I think it is a very stern test and a very good golf course.”