HISTORY was made at the Foshan Open as Bai Zheng-kai became the first Chinese player to win on the European Challenge Tour shooting six-under on the back nine to secure victory at Foshan Golf Club.
Bai signed for a seven-under par 65 to post 23-under for the tournament – four strokes clear of Dou Zecheng, who finished second on 19 under.
Scotland’s Calum Hill – who needed victory to earn automatic promotion to the European Tour – finished with five successive birdies to get to 18-under and return to the top of the Road to Mallorca rankings thanks to his third-place finish.
However, the day belonged to 22-year-old Bai, who showed maturity beyond his years as he put the Foshan course to the sword over the final nine holes, and made Challenge Tour history in the process.
“It feels amazing,” Bai said. “Becoming the first Chinese player to win the Foshan Open is unbelievable. I’ve had a great week and I’m very happy.
“All the Europeans are good players and it just feels amazing to win this tournament. I’m honoured to become the first Chinese player to win on the Challenge Tour.”
Bai, also known as Bobby, set a new course record in the second round when he posted a bogey-free 63. And the PGA Tour China player drew on that experience as he came down the stretch with victory in his sights.
“I looked at the leaderboard around the turn and felt like I needed a few more birdies,” said Zheng-kai.
“My ball-striking was good, my putting kept me going along the last couple of holes and I made a lot of birdies.
“I also played pretty well when I shot 63 on Friday. I made a lot of putts and my ball-striking was really good. Everything fell into place that day.”
One shot behind Hill in a tie for fourth place was Hampshire’s Richard Bland and Germany’s Alexander Knappe on 17-under, while Poland’s Adrian Meronk, Denmark’s Benjamin Poke and Wiltshire’s Ben Stow shared sixth place on 16-under.
Royal Liverpool’s Matthew Jordan, Christofer Blomstrand, and overnight leader Ricardo Santos, who posted a one over-par 73 on Sunday, complete the top 10 in a share for ninth place a further shot back.
As Bai is not a member of the European Challenge Tour, he will not receive the Road to Mallorca Rankings points allocated for the winner of the Foshan Open.
As a result Bai is ineligible to play in the Challenge Tour Grand Final next month. But he does earn a start in the WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai this week.
Nervious finish in Race to Mallorca
ONE man who will play at Club de Golf Alcanada next month is Hill, who finished solo third to replace Hainan Open Champion Francesco Laporta at the top of the Road to Mallorca rankings.
Bland’s tie for fourth spot moves him to third place in the rankings and will mean there is one Challenge Tour Grand Final winner in the field at
Knappe, who played on an invite this week, climbed 43 places to 46th position on the Road to Mallorca.
But the German missed out on a spot in the Challenge Tour Grand Final, by just 882 points – the only consolation was Knappe, a two-time Challenge Tour winner, did secure full playing privileges for next year.
Somerset’s Laurie Canter made it through in 44th spot, one of nine Englishmen, including Bland (3rd), Lancastrians Jack Senior (7th) and Matthew Baldwin (38th), Jordan (10th) Stowe (17th), Kent’s Steve Tiley (30th), Essex’s Dale Whitnell (34th) and Surrey’s Ross McGowan (40th) to make it through to the season’s finale.
Those that missed out were Essex’s Todd Clements (50th) and Staffordshire’s Richard Mansell (64th), who played limited schedules having graduated from the EuroPro Tour via sponsors’ invites.
Kent’s Matt Ford (61st) and 2013 Amateur Champion Garrick Porteous (56th) will now head to the European Tour Qualifying School along with Lincolnshire’s David Coupland, Walton Heath’s former Welsh international David Boote and Scotland’s Bradley Neil, who won the Amateur Championship, at Royal Portrush, in 2014
There is now a week’s break on the Challenge Tour schedule as the top 45 players prepare for the final event of the season in Mallorca, where the leading 15 players will earn full European Tour cards for next season.
Scotland’s Conor Syme currently in 12th place will need a good week to lock up his European Tour card while his Walker Cup team-mate Jordan – a winner of the Italian Challenge Open – will also be looking nervously over his shoulder.
Meanwhile the other four Englishmen in the field know a victory in Mallorca will guarantee them the ultimate prize of a place on the European Tour in 2020.
Last year Portugal’s Pedro Figueiredo claimed the 15th card with 94,339 points. Wales Oliver Farr currently occupies that spot with 77,027 points so will most likely need a top 20 finish to guarantee his third promotion from the Challenge Tour since 2014.
•See the current Road to Mallorca standings by clicking here.