SHANGHAI — The PGA Tour China Series began in 2014 and by all accounts is ahead of schedule in developing local talent.

Last year, Li Haotong was one shot out of the lead going into the final round of the HSBC Champions and played in the penultimate group with reigning Masters and U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth. After a rough start with a nation watching, he shot 72 and tied for seventh.

This year, the honor went to Zhang Xinjun, who opened with rounds of 68-69. He received a larger gallery than he would have expected because he was in the same group as Rory McIlroy. Zhang matched McIlroy with a 70, then faded to a 76 in the final round and tied for 21st.

“It’s great for the tournament,” McIlroy said. “I knew the atmosphere of the day was going to be a bit bigger than it has been, especially playing with Zhang. It’s nice they have a local. They came out to watch him and support, and I was along. So it was a bonus that we both played together.

“All the kids watching, it can only inspire them to try to emulate the local hero, as well as guys like us.”

Li won four times in China in the inaugural year to advance to the Web.com Tour, where he was 49th on the money list. He was playing the Web.com Tour again this year until he won the Volvo China Open to secure his European Tour card. He now is at the Turkish Airlines Open this week as part of the Final Series on the Race to Dubai.

Zhang is No. 5 on the China money list, hopeful of staying there for the second half of the season so he can advance to the Web.com Tour.

“This is what we hoped would happen,” said Paul Johnson, head of international affairs for the PGA Tour. “It just happened sooner than we thought. When we built the platform, we thought it would take five years. Some of these guys have shot through more quickly.”

Next in line is Zecheng Dou. He already has won four times on the PGA Tour China Series to easily lead the money list. Zecheng is virtually a lock to be on the Web.com Tour next year, and he should have status all year.

For Zecheng, coming to America won’t be too great of a shock to the system. He once lived in Canada and played several junior events in America growing up. He saw the PGA Tour China Series as his best route to the PGA Tour.