GUILIN, China — American Charlie Saxon holed a pressure-packed, 7-foot par putt on the final hole to avoid a playoff with China’s Jin Zhang, giving him the Guilin Championship title. Saxon’s 3-under 69 and an 18-under total of 270 at the stunning Guilin Landscape Golf Club earned him his second Tour title in his last three events and gives him four PGA TOUR Series-China tournament wins overall, tying him for most career victories with current PGA TOUR player Zecheng “Marty” Dou, who won four times in 2016. The Series began in 2014.
Saxon, 25, started his day one off the pace and fired out of the blocks with birdies on Nos. 2 and 3 to take an early two-shot lead after Zhang bogeyed the third hole.
The 22-year-old Zhang, the solo 54-hole leader and the 36-hole co-leader, struggled in the opening holes and then clawed his way back to within one after No. 17. But Zhang couldn’t birdie the par-4 closing hole, and all he could was watch has Saxon came through with his par.
Canada’s Justin Shin, who shared second with Saxon at last month’s Haikou Championship, fired a 67 to secure third at 16-under, while Sweden’s Oskar Arvidsson (71) and Malaysia’s Arie Irawan (69) tied for fourth, at 13-under, their best results in their first full season on the Tour.
“The crowds were fantastic, and it was a lot of fun to play in front of so many people. It’s definitely one of the better crowds I’ve experienced in China,” said Saxon, who carded 23 birdies and one eagle in 72 holes.
“The course was in great condition, and I’m just really happy about the week. My mindset through the whole day was just to go out there and make birdies. I wanted to keep the pedal down and make it hard for people to catch me.”
Second on the Order of Merit in 2016 when he won twice, the 25-year-old has extended his lead in this year’s money list and heads to next week’s Kunming Championship at Yulongwan Golf Club as a firm favorite.
“I feel great about my game right now, and I’m really confident,” Saxon said. “I really enjoy the course we are playing next week. I can’t wait to get out there and hopefully get in contention again.”
After Saxon’s quick start, both Saxon and Zhang bogeyed No. 6, and the American stayed in the lead with birdies on 10 and 14. However, Zhang drew within one shot with birdies at 13, 16 and 17, ensuring a pressure-packed final hole.
Saxon missed the green with his second shot on 18 and was forced to save par with a difficult up-and-down, chipping to within 7 feet before making the putt as the enthusiastic crowd watched.
Even in defeat, Zhang established himself as one to watch after a strong showing this week, recording his best finish on the Tour after ties for 10th in 2015 and 2016 and a share of 11th in last month’s Changsha Championship, won by Saxon.
Although he admitted the pressure of leading and the large crowds fazed him in the early holes, he responded well. After losing the lead with a bogey on the third, Zhang also bogeyed Nos. 6 and 7 then birdied No. 8 in addition to three of the last six holes to close within one of Saxon.
“Today was my first time playing in the final group on this Tour, and if I played the first seven holes better, I think I might have had the chance to win,” said Zhang, who turned pro in October 2014.
“In the first seven holes, I rushed. I played too fast and was conscious of there being such big crowds. Only when I made the birdie on 8 did I feel much better, and I think I played well on the final few holes.”
Zhang enjoyed his two successive rounds in the last group and said he learned a lot from Saxon, who also counts a win at the PGA TOUR Latinoamerica’s Lexus Peru Open in 2017.
“Charlie played very well in the two rounds we played together. After this week, I learned a lot,” Zhang added. “I hope I can have more chances to play the leading group and hope I will play much better.”
For Shin, who won the Wuhan Open in 2015, it was a second successive top-three finish after sharing second with Saxon at last month’s Haikou Championship. The 26-year-old South Korea-born Canadian could also have tied for second in Guilin but bogeyed the closing hole.
Starting the day five shots behind Zhang, in a share of fifth, Shin picked up three birdies and a bogey on the front nine before birdies at 10, 12, 13 and 16 put him within one shot of Saxon.
“I kept checking the score because I was trying to finish at least 2-under on the first nine holes, so it was going the right way. I was 2-under after nine and then I birdied 10, so I had some momentum and was trying to catch Charlie,” said Shin. “I kept making birdies, on 12 and 13, and on hole 13 I saw he had a two-shot lead. I lipped out with a birdie putt on 15 and missed a short eagle putt on 16, so I was close but just missed out on the last few holes. I’m still really happy with it. I’ve been playing well lately, so I’ll get a W (win) soon.”
As well as a win, Shin is also focused on securing a top-five finish on the Order of Merit to earn himself a Web.com Tour card and a return to that Tour next year.
“I’m feeling good this year, and I’m looking for a W. Getting a win feels good, and I want to experience it again,” Shin added. “My goal is to try to be in the top five. Charlie has won two already, but I’m still going to try to catch him. I’m going to keep knocking on his door, and we’ll see what happens.”
American Paul Imondi (74), co-leader after Day 2, played with Zhang and Saxon in the final group on both Saturday and Sunday, and eventually tied for sixth with England’s Alex Belt (71), at 12-under, one ahead of the China duo of Daxing Jin and Xuewen Luo and Italian Aron Zemmer.