Han takes early lead in Asian Amateur

SHENZHEN, China (AP) — Han Ren of China opened 7-under 65 in the inaugural round Thursday of the Asian Amateur Championship for a one-shot lead in the 116-man field at Mission Hills Golf Club that offers a Masters invitation to the winner.

Han, who grew up near Mission Hills and now goes to Indiana, began with four birdies on the opening seven holes. He didn’t drop a shot until he failed to save par from a bunker on the 18th hole.

Han Chang-Won of South Korea was one shot behind, with Mhark Fernando of The Phillipines at 67.

The tournament is the creation of Augusta National and the Royal & Ancient, which wanted to provide a championship for Asian amateurs. The winner is exempt to the Masters in April and receives an exemption to the final stage of qualifying for the British Open.

“It is too early to think about winning the tournament,” Han said. “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. I need to focus on my game and enjoy every shot.”

If he were to get to the Masters, it would not be the first time the 21-year-old Han saw four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods. He played three holes with Woods in 2001 during an exhibition at Mission Hills.

“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.”

Thirty countries from the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation are represented at the Asian Amateur Championship, including players from Mongolia, Nepal, Bahrain, Cook Islands, Cambodia and Myanmar.

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