It doesn’t take long to find the favorites in this Asia-Pacific Amateur field. After the first round at Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, they’re all crowded at the top. In all, seven players share the first-round lead, and at least three of those men stick out.
World No. 1 amateur Keita Nakajima of Japan and two-time AAC winner Yuxin Lin of China – also the defending champion from his 2019 victory – were paired together for Wednesday’s opening round in Dubai and both walked away with a 4-under 67. Australian Lukas Michel, winner of the 2019 U.S. Mid-Amateur, also fired 67.
Sam Choi, Alexander Yang, Jimmy Zheng and Wooyoung Cho also had 67.
Lin, who plays for Florida, and Nakajima had never played together, but Lin didn’t buy into any talk of a rivalry between them during a big week when a Masters invitation is at stake for the winner.
“Obviously everyone is trying to win the tournament,” he said. “For me, I’m not really trying to compete with anyone else. Just trying to play the best golf that I can and the results should be good.”
Interestingly, both men stumbled at the start. Lin bogeyed his first hole, a par 4, while Nakajima birdied it. But Nakajima’s hand slipped on his driver at the next hole, and his tee shot sailed out of bounds to set up a double bogey.
“I had a good birdie at first hole, so I believe that I can make more birdies,” Nakajima said of recovering from an early big number.
The two men combined for 10 birdies over the next 11 holes.
Zheng, a sophomore at Duke, is the only New Zealander in the field of 93 players.
“I’m sure they will be happy to see that I’m at the top of the leaderboard, and I am happy having them cheer me on this week,” Zheng said of wearing his country’s colors.
Zheng eagled the fourth hole, a par 5, after setting up a 25-footer with a hybrid approach. His back nine included three birdies and no bogeys.
Yang, a freshman at Stanford who is representing Hong Kong this week, eagled the fourth as well as the 13th, another par 5. He closed with two birdies as the wind picked up.
“I had good shots all the way in starting on 17 tee,” he said. “I hit driver, which is aggressive but it set me up with a good look at the green and made a putt there. Same thing on 18, good drive on the fairway and hit the shot to about 10 feet and made it.”
Michel, the Mid-Am champ who competed in the 2020 Masters courtesy of that win, had five birdies and only a single bogey.
Add Jun Min Lee to the highlight reel for an impromptu dip he took at the par-4 second. Lee, of South Korea, feel backward into the water attempting to hit a shot and then had to go back in to retrieve his club.
— Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (@AAC_Golf) November 3, 2021
“It was a poor tee shot and poor layup and I was stuck behind the rocks and I was trying to get it out in the front right of the green or front right fringe and I was like, man, I’ve got a stance, I’ve got this, I’ve got this,” he said. “So, I’m over it, I’m over it, getting ready, hit the shot and next thing I know, I throw my club and I’m falling back, ball is in the water. Overall, it’s a pretty eventful start to the day on hole 2!”
He walked away with a quadruple bogey there and despite spending much of the day squelching around the course in soaking shoes and clothes, recovered for a 2-over 73 that left him only six shots back.
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