Niall Kearney more than doubled his Asian Tour earnings with an immaculate final round 68 as world No 12 Sergio Garcia prevailed in a four-way play-off to win in the inaugural US$1.5 million Ho Tram Open in Vietnam.
The 35-year-old Spaniard holed a huge putt to stay alive at the first extra hole and then parred the second at The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip to pip a courageous Himmat Rai of India after Chinese Taipei’s Lin Wen-tang and Thai veteran Thaworn Wiratchant had bowed out earlier in the richest full-field Asian Tour tournament this season.
Garcia’s 23rd career Tour victory and his first since January, 2014 came with a cheque for US$270,000 while Kearney made $8,775 and moved to 110th in the Order of Merit with $16,878 from eight events as his 68 left him tied for 41st on level par 284.
According to the Asian Tour:
“Winning is never easy,” said Garcia, who closed with a three-under par 68 for a 14-under-par 270 aggregate. "I was fortunate and you have to be lucky to win. I was fortunate to get a second chance after I pretty much gave it away. I’m very happy as I haven’t won in a while.
“After you’ve been up there and you don’t win, a lot of things go through your mind and this win will help give me a little bit more confidence.
Starting the day two back of overnight leader Lin, Garcia stormed out with a stunning outward 29 to open up a three-shot lead before his game surprisingly unravelled with a bogey on 10 and a double bogey on 17.
Thaworn and Rai came home in 67s while Lin scrambled to a 70 to force extra-time which left spectators at the edge of their seats as they awaited to hail the Ho Tram Open’s first ever champion.
On the first extra hole on 18, Garcia, who has now won five Asian Tour titles, drained a massive 35-foot birdie putt which was matched by Rai, who coolly converted from five feet after Lin and Thaworn missed their birdie attempts.
The Spaniard then claimed a popular victory with a par after Rai dropped a bogey after finding the bushes with an errant drive.
“It was a strange day. It felt like I was so much under control, the way I played the front nine. Then I hit a bad tee shot on 10 but I still managed to get it back together and had some chances which I didn’t make. Then I hit a poor shot on 17,” said Garcia.
“I guess they gave me a hat in my hand, I gave it away and they gave me another chance. It was just luck for me. I had 30 to 35 feet (in the first play-off hole), and even if you hit a great putt, you need to get lucky. Then I managed to get to the next hole and unfortunately Rai pulled it a bit left into the bushes and I managed to make four and that was it.”
Rai, whose lone Asian Tour victory came in 2011, charged into contention with a birdie, birdie, eagle run from the 14th hole but rued a three-putt bogey on 18 in regulation play which proved costly.
However, the 28-year-old Indian took comfort that his joint runner-up cheque of US$111,500 was more than enough to safely secure his Tour card for next season after starting the week in 116th place on the Order of Merit.
“I enjoyed it because I played really good. On the second play-off hole, I just rushed it. I wasn’t feeling comfortable with my grip and I should have backed off. I was a little bit disappointed,” said Rai.
“I was showing signs of improvement this year. The game was there. It was about putting it together and I’m so glad I did it this week. Thank God, it has all worked out and I have an Asian Tour card for next year. It was looking very bleak.”
Unorthodox swinging Thaworn, who played alongside Garcia in the final round, was disappointed his birdie attempt from 10 feet in the first extra hole agonisingly hit the edge of the cup. “My putt was against the wind and I knew I had to putt it a bit harder but it was probably too hard. It was a good line,” said the 49-year-old, who was chasing a 19th Asian Tour title.
Lin felt his three-putt bogey on 17 blew his chances of winning a seventh Asian Tour title.
“I missed too many short birdie putts. Then I three-putted on the 17th hole and I think that’s the turning point. In the play-off, I was stupid. I put too much power in my swing and hit my tee shot into the right sand dune. I had a crazy lie,” said the man from Taipei.
Ho Tram Open, The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip (Par 71, 6,797 Yards)
270 – Sergio GARCIA (ESP) 66-68-68-68, Himmat RAI (IND) 66-69-68-67, Thaworn WIRATCHANT (THA) 64-71-68-67, LIN Wen-tang (TPE) 65-67-68-70.
(Garcia won with a par on the second play-off hole)
271 – Thomas BJORN (DEN) 69-70-68-64.
273 – Sam CYR (USA) 69-69-70-65, Shaun NORRIS (RSA) 66-71-65-71.
274 – Sunghoon KANG (KOR) 72-68-67-67.
275 – Chawalit PLAPHOL (THA) 68-67-72-68, Terry PILKADARIS (AUS) 71-67-69-68, Paul PETERSON (USA) 66-70-68-71.
276 – Nicholas FUNG (MAS) 65-70-72-69, Charlie WI (KOR) 62-72-72-70.
277 – Jeunghun WANG (KOR) 75-67-70-65, Prom MEESAWAT (THA) 69-71-68-69, Geoff OGILVY (AUS) 69-70-67-71.
284 – Niall KEARNEY (IRL) 70-72-74-68.