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17 November 2003

ZHANG SECURES DREAM VICTORY IN VOLVO CHINA OPEN

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Shanghai, November 16: Chinese star Zhang Lian-wei claimed his first Volvo China Open crown today to finally lay his hands on the title he covets the most. <br/> <br/>The 38-year-old local hero fired a final round 72 at Shanghai Silport Golf Club for a long-awaited two-stroke victory over Thailand's Thaworn Wiratchant, who carded a fine 69. Unho Park of Australia finished third, a further two strokes back, following a 74. <br/>

Zhang's winning total of 11-under-par 277 in the Volvo China Open came with a handsome cheque of US$90,000, which raised his season's haul on the Asian PGA Tour to US$245,569.



"We've dreamt of winning this for a long time" said Zhang, whose triumph was his second of the season and his career fifth on Tour.



"Volvo has been a big help in my career and this title means the most to me. I've been trying to win this for the past nine years and I'm very, very happy now. It's not easy to achieve victory in China as there is so much pressure. I'm very relieved."



Starting the final day with a two-shot cushion, Zhang immediately opened up a four-shot advantage when he birdied the first hole while playing partner Unho dropped a shot.



The chasing pack failed to put the early pressure on due to a combination of tough pin placements and windy conditions and Zhang's advantage increased to five for a long spell before a sudden bout of nerves crept in on the back nine.



Zhang bogeyed the 13th and 14th which allowed Thaworn, playing two groups ahead, to surge to within one shot of the lead after the Thai birdied 15 and 16.



But Thaworn's brave charge ended when he missed a six-foot birdie attempt on 17 and Zhang clinched the deal with what he termed as "the shot of the week" on 16 when he hit a 129-yard nine iron shot from out of thick rough to within six inches of the cup to regain his two-shot lead.



After putting out for par at the last hole in front of his adoring fans, Zhang raised both hands in jubilation as it has been his ambition since the inauguration of the Volvo China Open in 1995 to lift his home Open. He is the second local player after Cheng Jun to win the event.



"I knew it was getting tight on the back nine after my two bogeys. For sure, my nine iron shot on 16 was the best one I hit this week. The lie wasn't good but I struck it perfect," said Zhang, who beat Ernie Els to win the European Tour-sanctioned Caltex Masters Presented by Carlsberg in Singapore in January.



Victory also helped Zhang narrow the gap at the top of the Asian PGA Tour Order of Merit where he now trails leader Arjun Atwal of India by approximately US$36,600 with three events remaining this season.



Thaworn, who earned a career-best US$55,500, was proud of his performance: "When I made the turn, I didn't think I had a chance. But after the birdies on 15 and 16, I knew I was close. I had a great opportunity on 17 - I thought it was a straight putt but it broke left. I'm still happy to finish second."


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