Carl Yuan is playing for an entire country at 2023 Sanderson Farms Championship

JACKSON, Miss. –  It’s something Carl Yuan carries on his shoulders.

Yuan has the chance to become the first mainland Chinese-born player to earn a victory on the PGA Tour when he tees it up in the final pairing at the Sanderson Farms Championship.

Yuan, 26, is the third mainland Chinese player to earn PGA Tour membership and enters the final round at 17 under, three shots behind leader Ben Griffin. Yuan and Griffin are scheduled to tee off in the final pairing at 2:50 p.m. Sunday at Country Club of Jackson.

“It means a great deal to me and my country,” said Yuan, who shot 5-under 67 in Saturday’s third round. “I’m looking forward to play great [on Sunday].”

Yuan joins Zecheng Dou and Li Haotong as mainland Chinese players to reach the PGA Tour. Dou also enters Sunday in contention after shooting 68 on Saturday. He’s tied for sixth with Cameron Champ at 15 under.

Who is Carl Yuan? Mainland Chinese players on PGA Tour

Yuan, who played his college golf at Washington, turned professional in 2018, two years after graduation. He won on the Korn Ferry Tour at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open in 2022 and the PGA Tour China at the Qingdao Championship in 2018. But a win on pro golf’s premier tour has been elusive in 29 career starts.

He’s not the only one. Li has made 45 starts on Tour, including a solo third finish at the 2017 Open Championship won by Jordan Spieth. Dou has one top-5 finish in 55 starts since 2018 and entered this week ranked 125th in the FedEx Cup Fall standings, the final slot to gain full Tour status for next season.

Yuan is at No. 151 in the standings, just outside the cutline for conditional status on Tour in 2024. A strong finish should put him safely in position to play more PGA Tour events next season.

“I would love to see more kids and players in China play on the big tour out here,” Yuan said. “I hope I can do what I can to help grow the game back there.”

How Carl Yuan played into contention at Sanderson Farms Championship

Yuan is strategic when showing his emotions, whether it’s an impressive two-putt from 30 feet — it received cheers from patrons watching from a nearby pavilion Saturday — or a chip from the fringe that scurried past the whole, making him wish he could have that shot back.

Yuan’s calm and relaxed demeanor has paced his game this week in Mississippi. Through three rounds, he led the field with 20 birdies and was in the top 10 with just three bogeys. He was also 3-for-3 on sand saves and hasn’t carded a double-bogey or worse this week.

“That’s something I’ve been working on,” he said. “Accept good and bad shots. Just stay focused on the next one and move on.”

For example, Yuan caught a break on No. 18 on Saturday when his second shot from the rough hit the grandstand, caught a favorable bounce and landed on the fringe. Yuan went on to two-putt and save par.

“I got lucky that I hit the right grandstand,” he said, smiling. “So it was definitely a break there.”

He might need a few more breaks Sunday to chase down Griffin and secure his first win on the PGA Tour. He doesn’t expect to be fazed.

“My early success (on other tours) will definitely help me going into (the final round),” Yuan said. “I know what I need to do to just focus on my game. To stay committed and be patient and we’ll see how it turns out.”

Michael Chavez covers high school sports, among others, for the Clarion-Ledger. Email him at [email protected] or reach out to him on X @MikeSChavez.

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