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Cooper’s Hot Putter Gives Him Two-Shot Putian Open Lead

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On a day when the wind died down, Australia’s Taylor Cooper took advantage. And even though his final three holes were somewhat disappointing, the native of Gosford in New South Wales was more than happy with his 5-under 67 that gives him a two-shot lead after the first round of the Putian Open. He leads China’s Xuewei Luo by two shots and Guowu Zhou by three in this, the 11th event of the Ping An Bank China Tour – PGA TOUR China Series season.

“I’ve been hitting the ball really well, actually. It’s just the putter that’s been a bit of a struggle,” said Cooper, whose best finish in nine previous starts was a tie for 12th at the season-opening Henan Open in May. He is 65th on the Order of Merit. In his last three starts, Cooper withdrew from the Ping An Bank Open and then missed the cut last week in Hong Kong. “The putter has just showed up only here and there this season.”

It did today, as the 24-year-old rolled in five birdie putts and chipped in for a sixth. Sitting at 6-under heading to the 16th hole, Cooper could have gone even lower, but he missed an eight-foot birdie putt there and then had a good look at birdie from 19 feet on No. 17 that didn’t fall. On 18, Cooper three-putted from 30 feet, missing his comebacker for par after running his first putt past. It was his lone bogey of the day.

Had those three putts dropped . . .

Then again, he chipped in for an unlikely birdie on No. 14, from in front of the sand, hitting his shot with his right foot in the bunker.

For the day, Cooper only hit his driver once—on the sixth—instead relying, as he said, “on a lot of 3-irons and 4-woods” from off the tee. “I hit it close with my wedges when I had wedge chances, and I just holed the putts,” Cooper added.

Luo finished the 2015 season as an amateur and then turned professional. This is easily his best opening-round score this season, but he also had back-to-back 63s at the Yulongwan Yunnan Open (tied for 23rd) and tied for sixth at the season-opening Henan Open.

“This golf course is quite a fit for me,” the 20-year-old Luo said. “It is similar to the golf course in my hometown, Shandong, because of the wild wind and the narrow fairways.”

Luo probably made the putt of the day when he drained a 70-footer for birdie on No. 5. “It gave me a lot of confidence,” he said. Like Cooper, Luo was thinking about the four putts in the 10- to 12-foot range that he missed for birdies. “Sometimes, these greens are hard to read,” he said.

Alex Kang, who lost in a playoff at the Clearwater Bay Open, walked off the course satisfied with his 1-under effort that left him tied for fourth. “I wish I would have gone a little lower, and I wish I could have played a little more aggressive off the tee,” he said, noting he was a bit skittish about the course after playing Tuesday and Wednesday in wind that gusted to 40 mph. “It was so windy in the practice rounds that I didn’t think I could reach some par-5s. Today I could have.

“I was actually prepared for cold and windy weather. We lucked out, I made some good putts and 1-under is fine. I’m in contention,” he added.