Chinese-American teen Xiong grabs share of US PGA lead

Norman Xiong plays his shot on the 18th hole during the second round of the US PGA Tour’s Sanderson Farms Championship. (AFP pic)

JACKSON: Chinese-American teen Norman Xiong fired a five-under par 67 Friday to seize a share of the lead after the second round of the US PGA Tour’s Sanderson Farms Championship.

Two weeks before his 20th birthday, the Guam-born prodigy — playing on a sponsor’s exemption — made his first cut in seven starts since turning professional in May.

He shared the top spot at the Country Club of Jackson, Mississippi, with first-round leader and fellow American Cameron Champ on nine-under 135 for 36 holes.

Xiong, who moved to the United States at age six with his mother and uncle, won the junior world title while in high school and was named the 2018 US Golfer of the Year playing for the University of Oregon.

Starting on the back nine, Xiong sank a 55-foot eagle putt from the fringe at the par-5 11th before taking his lone bogey at 12, missing a 12-foot par putt.

Xiong responded with a tap-in birdie at the par-5 14th, just shy on a 50-foot birdie bid, and chipped in from the rough from 47 feet at the par-4 16th, then added a three-foot birdie putt at the par-5 third and a 24-footer from the fringe for birdie at the par-4 sixth.

And that was after sinking a 56-foot birdie putt in Thursday’s opening round, another of the long putts that relaxed any notion of rookie nerves.

“They really kind of take off the pressure on a day like this when it’s windy and the pins are not as accessible,” Xiong said.

Xiong could become the youngest US PGA event winner since Jordan Spieth at the 2013 John Deere Classic, where Spieth was tour’s youngest winner since Ralph Guldahl in 1931.

It would also bring him US PGA playing rights after his struggles in all six prior pro events.

“When I turned pro, it was a little bit overwhelming, I guess,” Xiong said. “It was very frustrating. I felt as though my whole game was really solid.

“I think I’ve done a really good job of learning and getting used to it.”

Champ fired a 70 to share the lead with Xiong with fellow Americans Shawn Stefani and Jonathan Byrd sharing second on 136.