Barton: China's First Open Competitor Shoots 77

SOUTHPORT, England -- A new entry was made in the many-thousand-year history of China when, at 1:42 p.m. on Thursday, Mr. Liang Wen-chon--or as we'd say in the West, Mr. Wen-chong Liang--hit his opening drive from the first tee at Royal Birkdale. Liang is the first Chinese competitor in the Open Championship, whose history isn't quite as long as China's but does nevertheless go all the way back to 1860.

"Being the first Chinese at the British Open is an honor for me," said Liang, 29, who earned his place at Birkdale by being ranked No. 1 on the Asian Tour in 2007 (View a video profile of Mr. Wen-chong Liang). The son of a rice farmer, Liang is halfway through an eight-week, round-the-world sojourn that has taken in the European and Scottish Opens, includes the Canadian Open next week, then ends up with some PGA Tour events concluding, he hopes, the PGA Championship, which would be his fourth major-championship appearance.

At Birkdale, watched by three Chinese reporters, one Chinese photographer and a handful of other interested observers, such as wife Miffy, swing coach Kel Llewellyn and avid golfer and leading Chinese actor Wang Zhiwen, Liang hit some stellar shots, but after missing makable birdie putts at the second and third holes, he struggled on the greens in the strong winds. He closed out his round by dropping four shots in the last six holes thanks to a series of pulled drives. It added up to a 77, without a single birdie on the card.

"I played decent, but my putting was off," Liang told a small huddle after his round. "From the very first hole, I just couldn't find any rhythm on the greens."

Twenty-seven nations are represented at this year's Open. For each one, a flag flies high on the top of the bleachers alongside the 18th hole. Regardless of what Liang does this week, you get the feeling that the Chinese flag--flapping proudly at Birkdale between those of Canada and Colombia--will be a permanent fixture of future Opens.

--John Barton