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Fast start puts Zhang in lead at Centennial

Michael Zhang didn’t waste time putting up a number for the rest of the boys division to chase in the American Junior Golf Association tournament at Centennial Golf Club Tuesday.

Zhang, of San Diego, had the earliest tee time in the first round, going off on hole No. 10. He one-putted his first six holes and crafted a flawless round of 6-under 66 to kick off the seventh annual tournament.

He had four birdies on the front nine, two on the back and nary a bogey.

Starting so early proved beneficial.

“I believe it was,” said Zhang, a recent high school graduate who earned a scholarship to play at Cal State Northridge. “The greens were really fresh, and putting on them, they’re like, really true.”

Zhang has a two-shot lead over Bryan Teoh Wiyang, of Jupiter, Florida, and Edwin Kuang, of Murrieta, California. Another stroke back is Matt Heitel, of Redwood City, California, and six players are at 70.

In the girls division, the top of the leaderboard was a bit more crowded, with eight players within two shots.

Jiayu Kong, of Arcadia, California, leads with a 69, followed by three players — Elizabeth Lu, of Los Gatos, California; Montgomery Ferreira, of University Place, Washington; and Therese Warner, of Kennewick, Washington — at 70

Local players have some ground to make up as the tournament continues today with 18 holes. Following a cut (the top half of the field and ties advance), the final round will be Thursday.

South Medford’s Reese Fisher is tied for 38th on the boys side. He shot 75.

In girls play, recent Crater graduate Daniele Giles and her teammate, Kiana Oshiro, are each six strokes back at 75 and tied for 24th. St. Mary’s Staesha Flock is 45th with an 81.

Oshiro was runner-up last year, and Giles placed seventh.

Being in the dawn patrol didn’t seem to bother Zhang.

After parring his opening hole, he reeled off three birdies, made another par, then followed with a birdie, making the turn in 32.

A 30-foot putt at No. 12 was a highlight.

“I just putted really well overall,” he said. “The greens were really nice. I enjoyed putting on them, and everything else just worked well.”

Physically, he said, he feels like he has “a little more energy” for early rounds, “since you just woke up and it’s after breakfast and stuff. But I don’t really find a big difference.”

Zhang played in five AJGA tournaments last year, placing in the top 15 twice. In April, he tied for fourth place in an event at Santee, California.

Last week, he shot a final-round 66 in a Temecula, California, tournament.

Zhang has three career top 10s in AJGA play and has a personal-best round of 8 under.

He didn’t match it Tuesday, but he did finish with a flourish.

On the par-5 ninth hole, he split the fairway with a big drive, then launched a 3-wood to nearly pin high in the right rough on the 567-yard hole.

He averages about 290 yards with his driver.

“I actually got a little more in my drive there,” he said of the 310-yarder.

A little lob wedge left him with a 10-foot birdie putt, which he drained.

Zhang won’t tee off until 12:30 p.m. today, and he knows having the first-round lead doesn’t guarantee anything.

“You’ve just got to stay patient, stay calm and not get too excited,” he said. “There are still two more rounds of golf left.”

Kong, bound for Princeton, made all four of her birdies on the front nine, then bogeyed No. 10 before parring out.

She placed ninth here last year and has one career AJGA victory.

BOYS TOP 10

1. Michael Zhang, San Diego, 66

T2. Edwin Kuang, Murrieta, Calif., 68

T2. Bryan Teoh Wiyang, Jupiter , Fla., 68

4. Matt Heitel, Redwood City, Calif., 69

T5. Grant Leppek, Rocklin, Calif., 70

T5. Drake Mendenhall, Granite Bay, Calif., 70

T5. Aaron Chen, Fremont, Calif., 70

T5. Andy Zhou, Palo Alto, Calif., 70

T5. Raymond Navis, Nipomo, Calif., 70

T5. Victor Wang, Sammamish, Wash., 70

OTHERS

T38. Reese Fisher, Medford, 75

GIRLS TOP 10

1. Jiayu Kong, Arcadia, Calif., 69

T2. Elizabeth Lu, Los Gatos, Calif., 70

T2. Montgomery Ferreira, University Place, Wash., 70

T2. Therese Warner, Kennewick, Wash., 70

T5. Ziyi Wang, Beijing, China, 71

T5. Alexa Melton, Covina, Calif., 71

T5. Neeve Chen, Roseville, Calif., 71

T5. Jo Hua Hung, New Taipei City, Taiwan, 71

T9. Brittany Park, Fullerton, Calif., 72

T9. Vanessa Wang, Rowland Heights, Calif., 72

T9. Jayla Yoonji Kang, Surrey, British Columbia, 72

OTHERS

T24. Kiana Oshiro, Central Point, 75

T24. Daniele Giles, Talent, 75

45. Staesha Flock, Medford, 81

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com

Boys leader Michael Zhang one-putted his first six holes and crafted a flawless round of 6-under 66 to kick off the seventh annual American Junior Golf Association tournament at Centennial Golf Club Tuesday. PHOTO BY RICK PALERMO / AJGA