Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand claimed a second European Tour victory today, winning the Shenzhen International in dramatic style following a two-way play off with local hero Li Hao-tong.
Li, who fought back magnificently from a slow start to the tournament, looked as though he had victory in the bag and a dream finish for the Chinese faithful, but Aphibarnrat, who had dropped valuable shots late in Round 3, saved his best to last, producing an eagle on the par-5 17th to bring him level with the Li.
Finishing regular play at 12-under par, the pair headed off to replay the 18th in a sudden death play-off, with Aphibarnrat setting up an almost identical 8-foot birdie putt as the one he’d missed only minutes earlier. With Li leaving himself too much to do from a wayward approach shot, the Thai saw his ball drop to claim the victory.
Speaking about the result, an elated Aphibarnrat said, “The win was not easy. After I played solid golf for three rounds, I thought the game should be over yesterday, but then I missed on the last two holes and everyone was in the game again. On the front nine, I was nervous and not playing my own game. My body was getting too tight and I lost some concentration.”
“I have to give special thanks to my caddie because he tells me before we teed off on 17 ‘we are two shots behind but we’re not losing’. Those words were key for me. ‘Just keep the ball in the fairway, give yourself the opportunity to hit the second shot, and who knows, last two holes, might get eagles and birdies.’ I missed the last putt, but we converted in the playoff with a great putt, the best one of my life.”
The result will likely see Aphibarnrat move into the top 80 in the Official World Golf Ranking from his current position of 116th and maintains his 100% record of winning his European Tour titles when leading going into the final round, following his first victory in Malaysia in 2013.
Graceful in defeat, Li said, “Today is lucky day. I made a lot of birdies again but just the Thai guy played so well. Congratulations to him. It’s been a very good experience and I really enjoyed it.”
With numerous names topping the leaderboard throughout the day, the tournament had been looking for someone to put their hand up and close out the win. Earlier in the day it had been Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal’s name at the top, but three bogeys and a double bogey on the back nine put pay to his chances.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood had also flirted with the idea of claiming a second European Tour victory but, despite four very consistent rounds and a brief spell at the top, two bogeys on the back nine left him with too much to do, finishing in third place and one shot off the lead at 11-under par.
Tied in fourth place at 10-under par, were Julien Quesne of France who carded an impressive 7-under par, Italy’s Marco Crespi, Round 1 leader Huang Wen-yi of China, David Howell and Tom Lewis of England, Y.E. Yang of South Korea, and Peter Uihlein of the US.
Another player to save the best to last was pre-tournament favourite Bubba Watson. The American had struggled to make a single good putt all week but today the flood-gates opened, notching up 8 birdies and a single bogey to leave him and the fans wondering what might have been. The world no.4 finished tied in 29th place at 5-under par.
Speaking after his round, a philosophical Watson said, “I wish I would have putted better the first three rounds. I putted good the last round. All in all it was a good test. It shows me what I need to work on. Shows me that I can play outside the US, especially today. But I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to improve. I’ve got to learn how to deal with different conditions, conditions I’m not used to, green speeds, just different atmosphere, different culture. But the whole week was fun. I take away the golf.” And in reference to his Friday night antics on the B course, adding, “The night golf was really fun, though!”
Commenting a successful inaugural championship event, Deng Xueqin, Chairman and President of Genzon Group, said, “We have enjoyed four days of first class international golf and have a highly deserving champion. Congratulations to Kiradech on a fantastic performance over four days and for giving all the spectators such a grandstand finish. We also offer our congratulations to Li Hao-tong on a wonderful display of golf which has captured the hearts of the nation. We look forward to welcoming the international golf community back to Genzon Golf Club for the second edition of the Shenzhen International in a year’s time.”
The Shenzhen International was played at Genzon Golf Club and was be contested over 72-holes of stroke play, and featured a cut after two rounds for a prize purse of US2.5 million.