28 Oct 2023 | Amateur golf |

AAC: Zheng dominates for China as Dowling hangs tough

by Martin Blake

Billy Dowling AAC round three image
Billy Dowling on his was to a 73 today. Photo: AAC

Teenager Billy Dowling has kept alive the dream of place in the Open Championship and the Masters in 2024 with another outstanding day at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at Royal Melbourne.

Four Australians are in the top 10 with Dowling, 18, from Surfers Paradise, the best of them in outright second place.

They are all chasing China’s Yunhe ‘Sampson’ Zheng who played a remarkable third round today in conditions that eviscerated most of the field in the world class amateur event.

Zheng kept his ball low in the fierce northerly winds, eagled the 10th to take the lead, and at one point reached 7-under par for the day before posting a 6-under 65, the lowest-ever score by an amateur on the composite course.

He was a stunning four shots better than anyone in the field for the day in winds that gusted around 50km/h.

“I said to my caddie that if anyone shot under par today that’s a really good round,” said Dowling, who shot 2-over 73 but actually jumped a spot on the leaderboard. “Then he told me someone shot six or seven-under. That’s probably the best round they’ve ever shot. That’s pretty cool.”

Zheng, the 22-year-old US college student, is at 3-under overall and has a four-shot lead entering tomorrow’s final round with the career-changing outcomes on the line.

Dowling, 18, the reigning Queensland Amateur champion who had never played anywhere on the famous sandbelt before this week, is at 1-over par and will play in the final group.

Victorian Jasper Stubbs at 2-over, Victorian Max Charles at 3-over and New South Welshman Jeff Guan at 5-over also have kept themselves in the top 10.

Jockey-sized Dowling made four birdies and six bogeys in a topsy-turvy round but never looked especially flustered. From the fringe behind the 18th green he negotiated a treacherous downhill putt to kick-in distance for par at the last to post his 73, jumping a spot on the leaderboard and sending him off for his first-ever international television interview obligations.

Whatever happens on Sunday, he has stamped himself as a star of the future.

“My expectations were just to hit the best shot possible each time and make good decisions,” he said. “I didn’t have any scores in mind or think about trying to jump up the leaderboard. It was just trying to do the best I could on the day.”

Charles, who has returned to Melbourne after several years at college in the US, was even better on the day, vaulting into the top five with his even-par round.

“It was pretty brutal out there today,” he said.

“The hardest thing today was the putting. The greens were slick, dried out by the wind, and those gusts have you second-guessing every putt you’re over.”

Dowling is best-placed to make a challenge on Sunday.

Having come into the field at the last minute, he has played with no expectations and no stress.

On Sunday, he plans to keep it that way.

“Just the same as today,” he said. “Try to hit the best shot, no thoughts about trying to overtake the leader and do my best.”


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