Zhang, Dou primed for Portland push

Chinese pair, going in opposite directions on Korn Ferry Tour, are aiming to secure PGA Tour cards in Oregon

China’s Zhang Xinjun and Dou Zecheng played Wednesday’s practice round together at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Oregon, but they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum as this week’s WinCo Foods Portland Open wraps up the Korn Ferry Tour regular season.

With two victories under his belt, the 32-year-old Zhang finds himself atop the tour points list – and a guaranteed return to the PGA Tour next season.

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Meanwhile, Dou sits 26th on the Korn Ferry points list, with the top 25 players at the conclusion of this week earning PGA Tour cards. The 2016 PGA Tour Series-China player of the year is 24 points outside the qualifying limit, but a topfive finish in Portland would almost certainly be enough to make it.

Dou is realistic about what this week means to him: A strong four rounds here, and he will join Zhang on the PGA Tour.

“Although I’m 26th, I have a really good chance of getting my card this year,” Dou said. “I want to get my card, but if I don’t I won’t be super mad or anything. I’ll just think that I need to look to my next opportunity. So, if I finish No 26, that means I’ll be No 1 going into the finals.”

The finals are for players who finish 26-100 on the Korn Ferry Tour points list. They join the 75 players (126-200) who didn’t qualify for the PGA Tour’s FedExCup Playoffs for a three-tournament playoff.

The top 25 points earners in that trio of tournaments qualify for PGA Tour membership. “That will be my second opportunity,” Dou said of the Korn Ferry Tour finals if things don’t go the way he hopes this week. “If it doesn’t work out, I’ll come back out here next year.”

Zhang said his breakout performance was at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai in 2011, where he tied for 13th with Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood. But he knows he’s a much better player today than eight years ago at Sheshan International. “At that time, my basics were not as solid as they are right now. Back then, I would have some good weeks, but I would also have some bad weeks. After I played on the PGA Tour Series-China, I got more systematic in my approach to the game and I began working on the areas that needed improvement – especially my consistency,” Zhang said.

“Since then, once I got to the US, I feel like I really improved my mental game, and I’m much stronger now than I used to be.”

Zhang also expects a different result when he returns to the PGA Tour. In his rookie year, he finished 167th in Fed-ExCup points, made only 12 cuts in 28 appearances and posted just one top-10 finish.

“I realize the great opportunity I have to finish No 1 this season. That would be the best thing,” Zhang added. “Compared to last year, I feel I’m just more relaxed. Last year, I was playing with a lot of expectations and trying so hard to keep my card. That put a lot of pressure on me.

“But now I feel I’m much more relaxed about things. I just focus on my play and not think about the results. This really helps me.”

Dou is in the second group that tees off on Thursday morning, playing with American Bo Hoag and 2018 PGA Tour Series-China player of the year Callum Tarren.

Zhang tees off in the afternoon, playing with John Merrick and Taylor Moore.

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