by Sean Martin
SHENZHEN, China – Sunday’s final group at the Asian Amateur will feature two South Koreans with very different backgrounds, but both would create Masters history for their country if they can win.
Chang-won Han shot a third-round 71 Saturday at Mission Hills Golf Club’s World Cup Course and is at 10-under 206, two shots ahead of Northwestern sophomore Eric Chun, who shot 66. Han is the top player on South Korea’s national team and winner of last month’s Nomura Cup, the Asia-Pacific Team Championship.
“I will try to play tomorrow in the way that I have been playing in the past two days,” Han said. “I know it is going to be very tight. I don’t know Eric and I have never played with him, but it is great that we get to play together tomorrow.”
Chun, 19, is the reigning Big Ten champ. He has lived in South Korea only about six years and played virtually no tournament golf in the country; he had to receive a special invitation to this event after uncertainty about his Korean citizenship. Chun’s family moved to Malaysia when he was 4.
He lived there until he was 14, when his family moved to Australia to help him develop his game. He lived in South Korea for his final two years before leaving for college, but didn’t play tournaments there. Instead, he came to the U.S. in the summer of 2007 to play AJGA events, hoping to get noticed by colleges in the U.S.
Chun is a sophomore at Northwestern. He is wearing his college uniform this week, while the other six Koreans in the field, including Han, are wearing national-team uniforms.
“I don’t have a history in Korea, so they don’t know much about me, but they’ve been real supportive and I appreciate that,” Chun said.
Australia’s Jordan Sherratt, who shared the 36-hole lead with Han, shot 74 to drop to third place at 7-under 209. New Zealand’s Thomas Spearman-Burn is in fourth place at 6 under par. He reached 11 under par Saturday to take the individual lead, but played Nos. 14-17 in 5 over, including a triple-bogey on the par-5 16th.
Spearman-Burn took an unplayable lie after his tee shot found thick vegetation, hit his third shot into a water hazard and three-putted.
An Asian Amateur victory by Han or Chun would give South Korea two amateur entrants at the 2010 Masters. Byeong-Hun An won the U.S. Amateur earlier this year.
If that scenario were to play out, it would believed to be:
• the first time an Asian country has had multiple amateur entrants in a Masters;
• the first time a country other than the United States has had multiple amateur entrants at the Masters, since the amateur exemption criteria was changed for the last time in 1989.
Chun, 19, and Han, 17, also would boost the number of teenagers in next year’s Masters field to three. British Amateur champ Matteo Manassero, who will be the youngest participant in history, and An, who is the youngest winner of the US. Amateur, are already in. Like Chun, An lives in the U.S., in Bradenton, Fla. He is expected to play at Cal next year.
Chun also would be the second Northwestern amateur to play the Masters in the past five years. Dillon Dougherty played the 2006 event after finishing runner-up at the 2005 U.S. Amateur.
After opening with 74, Chun has played the past 36 holes in 10 under par (68-66).
“I have played better and better as the week has gone on, and that has shown in my scores,” Chun said. “There are plenty of birdies available on this course if you are playing well, and I am going to be aggressive out there tomorrow.”
Though Chun has rebounded from a poor opening round, Han was able to hold on to the lead despite his worst round of the week. Han opened 66-69 but recorded three bogeys Saturday after making just two in his first 36 holes.
He also avoided disaster at the par-5 sixth when his caddie found his ball in thick vegetation after a large group of spectators was unable to locate it.
Chun’s close call came before the tournament even started. He did not find out about the Asian Amateur until six weeks before the event, and secured his Chinese visa only last week.
Because the KGA was unaware of Chun’s Korean citizenship, he is the seventh Korean in the field. Every country, except the host, is limited to six entrants. The tournament already had invited six South Koreans, believing Chun was not a Korean citizen, and added him to the field when his citizenship was confirmed.