John Michael O’Toole held onto his overnight lead to claim one of the three qualifying spots for April’s Volvo China Open, after a one under-par score of 70 saw him tied at the top of the leaderboard with Lien Lu-sen of Chinese Taipei at the conclusion of play.
Lien’s two under-par 69 saw him catch O’Toole, and the pair finished the Volvo China Open Guangzhou Nansha International Qualifying as joint winners on four under par 138.
Also booking a ticket to the Open Championship of China is last year’s International Qualifying winner Blake Snyder of the USA, who shot a best-of-the-day 65 to claim the third qualifying place on three under par.
But it was a day of agony at Nansha Golf Club for Berry Henson, Gunn Charoenkul and Oskar Arvidsson, all of whom finished just one-stroke behind in fourth place on one under par.
Lien and O’Toole were paired in the final group and teed off at 9:13am. O’Toole took immediate advantage of a superb iron shot to birdie the first hole while Lien’s drive went out-of-bounds and the 39-year-old had to settle for a double bogey six, resulting in a three-shot swing the America’s favour.
“I hit a pulled tee shot on the ninth hole and made double bogey there,” said O’Toole. “I’d been playing well up to that point and had already made three birdies.
“I figured I needed to hit all nine greens on the back nine and I did just that. I thought that if I gave myself enough chances one or two would fall for birdie and that’s exactly what happened. I was pleased with how I played on the back nine. I hit some really good iron shots.
“I had friends who qualified for the Volvo China Open last year who told me all about it and so I decided to come and try to qualify – this is my first visit to China. Thankfully I’ve succeeded in my goal to qualify.”
Snyder, 24, teed off in the third flight of the day six shots behind O’Toole, but shot 33 on the difficult outward nine and then added a bogey-free 32 on the inward nine to stand at that point at the top of the leaderboard.
“I took a big risk and hit driver on hole seven where I made birdie, and that turned out to be the spark for maybe the whole round because I birdied three in a row.
“Maybe my most dramatic hole was number 10 where I hit a very poor drive to the left of the fairway and left myself a five-wood to the green. I hit a very bad five-wood just short of the bunker and then I hit an amazing pitch from 50 yards to 10 feet and made the super tough 10-foot putt for par.”
The highly experienced Lien did not panic by the setback on the first hole and parred the next three holes before hitting a 300-yard drive on the par-five fifth that was followed by a sublime fairway wood to 25-feet from where he holed for eagle.
Lien placed second to Snyder in Hong Kong last year so has already experienced the thrill of playing in the Volvo China Open, and said that he is looking forward to playing top-level golf again.
“My most satisfying hole was the fifth where I hit two really good shots to reach the green in two and made the putt for eagle,” said Lien. “I didn’t feel upset about making the double on the opening hole – I just accepted it and carried on with the round.
“I didn’t listen to my caddie’s advice on the par-five 18th where I had another eagle putt. A birdie was good there, however, and I knew then that I had qualified once again for the Volvo China Open.”