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Wu Ashun sees positives in early Open exit

People's Daily Online)  09:50, July 21, 2013  

Ready to take on the world – Wu Ashun poses by an image of the famous 'Claret Jug', the trophy awarded to the British Open Golf Champion.(Photo/ David Ferguson)

Written by David Ferguson

While disappointed at his early exit from the British Open Golf Championship at Muirfield in Scotland, Wu Ashun and his team found plenty of positive signs offering encouragement for the future.

Wu Ashun was tipped last week by China's top golfer Liang Wenchong to become the next Chinese golfer to make it to the highest levels of the game. This was high praise from the only golfer from China who has yet succeeded in playing regularly in the Majors, and must have come as a great encouragement to Wu as he made his preparations to compete in his first Major, the British Open, being played this week at the Muirfield Golf Club near Edinburgh, Scotland.

As it happens, Wu's attempt to make the weekend cut was unsuccessful. On the face of it an overall score of 11 over par is a poor performance, but over the first two days of the competition the Muirfield course posed such a searching examination of the best players in the game that he missed the cut, which fell at plus-9, by only two strokes. More encouragingly, Wu thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and his whole team, including coach Joe Thiel and his hugely-experienced caddy Andy Prodger, saw an enormous number of positives in his performance.

It is astonishing, but quite true, that this was Wu's has never played a true links course before. After his first round I asked him how many links course he had played previously. "None," he answered. "This is my first one ever." He had qualified to play in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart the previous week alongside Liang Wenchong, which would have given him some indication of what to expect at Muirfield, but unfortunately there was a date clash with the Chinese national championships, and he was unable to make the trip.

He could hardly have asked for a more difficult introduction. Normally when you think of links golf you think of high winds and heavy rain, while the weather this week at Muirfield has been exactly the opposite – blue skies and baking heat. But every silver lining has a cloud. If anything, this has made the course even more difficult than usual. Most golfers will know what it is like to play golf in the wind and the rain, but few will know what it is like to play on the concrete-hard fairways and the lightning-fast greens of a links course under the relentless heat of the sun.

The result has been a course where it was almost impossible to place the ball anywhere near the hole, and greens on which no golfer could be sure of his tally until the ball was in the hole. The world's best golfers all struggled to make their putts, and top names like England's Ian Poulter and Phil Mickelson of the USA were among many who voiced direct criticism of the difficulty of some of the pin positions in the prevailing conditions after their first rounds were complete. You could see their point – Mickelson, one of the best short-game players in the world, had an astonishing three-putt from around two feet on the short 16th hole towards the end of his second round.

It was Wu's putter which let him down too, but you can hardly blame him for that. With coach and caddy he had worked out a strategy for his first round – play conservatively to the center of the greens, and don't try anything too ambitious. This first objective was achieved with considerable success. In his first round he hit 14 greens in regulation, a performance which must have placed him close to the top of the field. Unfortunately there were too many three-putts, and he finished the round at five-over – ten shots behind the leader, but by no means out of contention for the cut. Unfortunately, the second round was a repetition of the first. He missed a tricky short putt for par on the 2nd hole, and when he finally gave himself a short putt for birdie with a great wedge to the par-five 5th, he missed that too. When he finally birdied the 9th he moved to seven-over, a score which would have seen him comfortably within the cut, but four more dropped shots on the back nine put paid to his chances.

"The course was incredible," he said. "The fairways are like greens, and the greens are like glass. But it has been a great experience, and I will definitely be back." Coach Joe Thiel mirrored the view. "Over these two days Wu has struck the ball as well as at any time in the four years I've been coaching him. His difficulties all came from unfamiliarity with the bounce of the ball on the fairways and the roll on the greens. But he'll be back – not as a qualifier, but because he's going to climb the order of merit." Both men expressed their enjoyment of the warmth of the Scottish welcome and of the overall Muirfield experience – Wu described The Open as "the best tournament in the world".

The best two of the world's golfers are currently Tiger Woods and Rory Mcilroy. Tiger Woods, as expected, will go into Saturday's play close to the top of the leaderboard. He is in the second-to-last group, two-under par and just one shot off the lead. Few would wish to bet against him in such a menacing position and in such testing conditions. He is exactly the type of player you would expect to grind it out over the weekend, putting aside the inevitable setbacks and finding the odd birdie where others are grateful for a par.

Mcilroy, as feared, will not be there for the weekend. His well publicized difficulties continue. He teed off in the late morning on the first day, just as the temperature began to climb. But the brighter the sun shone and the bluer the sky became, the darker were the clouds that gathered over him. By the time he reached the 15th he was already lying at plus-3, having bogeyed five of the previous six holes. On 15 he found himself on the front fringe of the green, putted all the way across, and his ball raced past the hole, trickled off the other side of the green and finally dropped into a bunker. He made another bogey. He finished the second round a shot behind Wu Ashun on plus-12, and cut a forlorn figure as he bade his farewells to Muirfield. Only two late birdies saved him from the indignity of finishing at plus-14. That would have left only fifteen players behind him, including three amateurs not yet out of their teens. Somebody needs to do something, but who and what are a matter of great conjecture.

Leading the competition going into the weekend at minus-3 is the popular Spaniard Miguel Angel Jiminea, who recently became the oldest player ever to win on the European Tour and would be the oldest ever major winner were he able to hold his position here. But such is the challenge posed by Muirfield that fortunes can be transformed in the course of a single hole – though generally in a negative direction – and the truth is that any of the twenty or so players who lie within six shots of the lead might easily end up holding the Claret Jug. But they will have to see off Tiger Woods to do so.

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(Editor:YanMeng、Gao Yinan)


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