Han sets 1st-round pace at Asian Amateur

SHENZHEN, China – Indiana University junior Ren Han will go in the record books as the first player to lead the Asian Amateur, shooting 7-under 65 Thursday at Mission Hills’ World Cup Course to take the first-round lead in the inaugural event.

His score set the amateur course record and was, by default, the low score in tournament history. Han is a former member at Mission Hills, and he played three holes with Tiger Woods at the World Cup Course as part of a 2001 exhibition.

“I was very nervous when I played with Tiger back in 2001. I didn’t get to talk to him much, because I was very nervous,” Han said. “I don’t remember what I said to him, but I think he didn’t understand me. It was pretty interesting.”

Han was the first China resident to play college golf in the United States when he started at Indiana in 2007. He lived in Shenzhen until 2003, when he moved to Canada to further his golf career.

“My only memories of this golf course are from the white tees, so it’s like a whole new golf course,” Han said.

Han is one shot ahead of South Korea’s Han Chang-Won, who last month was medalist at the Nomura Cup, the Asia Pacific Team Championship (Korea also won the team title).

The Philippines’ Mhark Fernando (67) is third. Australia’s Jordan Sheratt and the Philippines’ Judson Eustaquio, who plays at Florida Southern, are tied for fourth after 68s.

Some of the field’s notable players find themselves with ground to make up on Han:

• Australia’s Matt Giles, a first-team All-American at USC last year (71, T-13)

• Australia’s Daniel Nisbet, No. 47 in the R&A World Amateur Rankings (72, T-25)

• China’s Mu Hu, who plays at Florida (72, T-25)

• South Korea’s Eric Chun, the Big Ten champ as a freshman last season at Northwestern (74, T-41)

Hong Kong’s Shun Yat Hak, No. 10 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings (76, T-67)

Han made eight birdies Thursday, with his lone bogey coming at 18, when he failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker.

“I think the highlight of my round today was getting away with a few mistakes and managing to stay consistent,” Han said.

Han’s biggest escape came at No. 17, when his tee shot was headed well left into native vegetation. The ball hit a tree and bounded backward, into the fairway. He hit 3-wood to just short of the par-4, then saved par with a 7-foot putt.

Han did not want to think of the prize awaiting the winner of this tournament: an invitation to the 2010 Masters.

“Winning a ticket to play in the Masters Tournament is the biggest attraction of this tournament yet it is also the biggest distraction for me,” Han said. “I need to focus on my game and enjoy every shot.”

Han has had an unheralded college career in his two-plus seasons at Indiana, but said he played well at the Nomura Cup.

“I knew I was playing well and was looking forward to coming to China,” Han said.

Through two college events this season, he is 1,088th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, with a 30-126-7 head-to-head record against Division I collegians. He has played in two of the team’s first five events, finishing outside the top 60 in both.

He did not play enough events last season to qualify for the rankings, and was No. 498 in 2007-08, his freshman year. His best finish was a runner-up showing at the Pinehurst Intercollegiate in the spring of 2008.

Han did make the cut in three China Tour events this year, finishing 13th at the Nissan Open. He also made the cut at the 2007 Volvo China Open, making him the first Chinese amateur to make the cut in a PGA European Tour event. As a junior, Han was an AJGA honorable mention All-American in 2005.

He said he has been playing well in qualifying rounds for Indiana, but was unable to carry over his good play to tournaments.

“I thought I was doing good, especially in the qualifiers. I had a lot of low scores this year,” Han said. “I was just trying to bring those (scores) into tournaments, and I did today.”

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