China’s Marty Zecheng Dou fired a bogey-free 6-under 64 to share third place after the first round of the Huntsville Championship as he took another step towards a return to the PGA TOUR.
The 25-year-old Dou was only one of three golfers on Thursday who did not drop a shot in the Korn Ferry Tour tournament, with birdies on Hole Nos. 10, 14, 16, 17, 1 and 8 leaving him one stroke back of co-leaders Zach Fisher and Harrison Endycott.
With compatriot Carl Yuan having surpassed the projected 900 points to secure a PGA TOUR card for next season, Dou, who has posted two top-5s this season, can reach the threshold with a victory this week.
“I played really well. I didn’t play last week, and stayed at home in Dallas and enjoyed a lot practice with my coach (Cameron McCormick) to find a very comfortable status for myself. I have great feelings with my swing this week but I did miss some short putts. My swing was solid,” said Dou.
A third career Korn Ferry Tour title will propel Dou back on to the PGA TOUR which he enjoyed a brief stint in 2018. With a bit more maturity and experience added to his game, the Chinese rising star is hopeful he can play his way back onto the elite circuit and handle the expectations of competing against the best players in the world.
“My mental game has improved and I didn’t worry too much when I missed putts. I think I have opportunities in the coming days,” said Dou.
Korea’s newcomer Seonghyeon Kim also carded a bogey-free 64 to enhance his bid for a PGA TOUR card. With three top-3 finishes already this season, the talented 23-year-old needs a two-way tie for sixth place or better this week to pass the 900 points threshold.
He produced another rock-solid display to put himself in the hunt for a first career win the Korn Ferry Tour. “I’m very thankful that I’m in a free position to try and earn a PGA TOUR card. However, I will try to focus on what I have for now, the Korn Ferry Tour. I don’t want to think only about that (PGA TOUR) every week. I want to focus on what I need to do right now. I just want to play and feel comfortable each week,” said Kim, who has won once each on the Korean Tour and Japan Golf Tour before earning his Korn Ferry Tour status through Qualifying School.
Based in Dallas, Kim has also benefited from the mentorship of Korean legend K.J. Choi, who is an eight-time PGA TOUR champion. Choi has guided Kim whenever possible and hosted him at his Dallas home as well in recent months.
Kim feels right at home at this week’s par-70 The Ledges course and hopes to challenge for a win. “It’s very similar to the course I’m used to back home, and similar to courses in Korea and Japan. The tee shot is important to set up the second shot into the greens. I was able to do great today and everything worked out well for a good round,” said Kim, who is currently fifth on the Regular Season points list which awards the top-25 with PGA TOUR cards.
China’s Xinjun Zhang, who has won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour, carded a 67 while Yuan, who currently leads the points standing, opened with a 73. Korea’s Byeong Hun An, who needs only a two-way tie for 35th place or better to surpass 900 points, opened with a disappointing 75.
Fischer and Endycott carded matching 63s to share the 18-hole lead. Fischer, a 32-year-old who plays from Benton, Arkansas, began his round on the back nine and opened with three straight birdies. Fischer added two more birdies at the par-4 first and par-5 fourth before his only bogey of the day, a five at the par-4 sixth. The University of Texas-Arlington alum ended his round the same way he started, as he tallied another trio of birdies on Nos. 7-9 and carded his third 64 of the season.
Second-round tee times will from 6:35 a.m. through 1:56 p.m. local time off the first and 10th tees.