The stage is set for the 2013 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship
At 6:45am Thursday, China's Chen Zihao will tee off in round one of the fifth edition of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship – and another chapter in the story of this pioneering tournament will be underway.
For the first time since its inauguration in 2009, the championship has returned to China, where 118 players from 34 different countries will compete not only for the handsome trophy, but also a berth in the 2014 Masters Tournament and International Final Qualifying for the 2014 Open Championship.
Twelve months ago, Guan Tianlang emerged on the world stage with a majestic wire-to-wire victory in Thailand. Showing a maturity that belied his years, the 14-year-old took the golfing world by storm by following up that performance with an extraordinary display on the hallowed turf at Augusta National Golf Club to make the cut.
Guan, who tees off at 7:12am, is the undisputed local favourite and will be looking to emulate the achievement of Hideki Matsuyama (2010 and 2011) by winning back-to-back AAC titles.
While Guan, who turns 15 on Friday, is confident of his chances of success over the stout Garden Course at Nanshan International Golf Club in Shandong province, he faces a field packed full of quality.
Chief among his rivals is last year's runner-up, Pan Cheng-tsung of Chinese Taipei (11:17am), who has enjoyed a fabulous season of his own. At number five in the world, Pan is the highest-ranked player in the field and, having contended at Merion during the U.S. Open in June, is more than a little motivated to fulfill his dreams of claiming the AAC title and making the trip up Magnolia Lane for the Masters.
One player whose spot at Augusta is already confirmed is Pan's playing partner for the opening rounds, Australia's Oliver Goss. The world number nine earned his invitation to the first major of the season after reaching the final of the U.S. Amateur Championship in August, and has his sights on the silverware and a place at International Final Qualifying for The Open Championship – the privilege that goes to both the winner and the runner up.
Practice is over, the welcome party has ended, the stage is set. Welcome to the 2013 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.