| FTLife HKPGA Championship Review
The Korean-born Australian Unho Park claimed his fifth FTLife HKPGA Championship title in six years with a stylish display over the dramatic clifftop course at Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club, writes Louie Chan.
The Korean-born Australian Unho Park claimed his fifth FTLife HKPGA Championship title in six years with a stylish display over the dramatic clifftop course at Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club.
2017 represented the 34th edition of the HKPGA Championship, an event first played in 1974, and Ageas has been title sponsors for seven consecutive years before. Ageas Insurance Company (Asia) Limited was renamed as FTLife Insurance Company Limited after being acquired in 2016. Thus, the company actually was the title sponsors for eighth year in succession.
The 54-hole tournament was played in its traditional format of visiting three different courses. The New Course at Hong Kong Golf Club hosted the first round; the Eden Course at Fanling was the venue for the second round, while Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club was selected for the allimportant final round. And the prize fund stayed as the same as last year’s recordequalling HK$500,000.
First Round – 4 January
No local player has triumphed at the championship since Dominique Boulet in 2004. And that was the 51-year-old, a twotime winner of the event, fired a three-underpar 67 over the New Course at Hong Kong Golf Club to hold a one-stroke advantage over defending champion Scott Barr and Hong Kong’s Wong Woon-man at the top of a crowded leader board.
Four-time champion Unho Park of Australia and three-time Asian Tour winner Anthony Kang of the United States lie in a share of fourth on one-under, while former Hong Kong Amateur champion Steven Lam returned a solid 71 in his first round as a professional.
Wong, who sits alongside Barr on twounder, had arguably the most remarkable round of anyone in the field. The burly 36-year-old holed out from the fairway twice in successive holes for back-to-back eagles at the fifth and sixth on his way to a 68. His weren’t the only fireworks, however, with fellow Hong Kong professional Wong Hoikin making a hole-in-one at the par-3 eighth in an otherwise lacklustre round of 80.
Second Round – 5 January
Boulet, Park and Wong hold a share of the lead through two rounds of the tournament after an absorbing day of action, while Barr finds himself in solo fourth at level par, with Anthony Kang a further shot back at oneover.
Steven Lam added a 72 to his opening 71 to lie in a tie for seventh in his first tournament outing as a professional, while Shinichi Mizuno, who was also playing in his first event since turning the pro ranks, carded the day’s best round – a one-under 69 to move into a share of ninth.
Boulet, now a prominent television commentator after spending 13 years on the Asian Tour, wasn’t at his best during a twoover 72 over his home course on Thursday and continued to downplay his chances of winning a third HKPGA title.
“I hit it solidly early on but I really lost my swing on the back nine,” said Boulet, whose last victory came in 2004. “Tomorrow is another day and I’m looking forward to it. It’s still a lot of fun.”
Australian Park, who won four straight HKPGA titles between 2012 and 2015 before losing out narrowly to Barr last year, relied on two amazing par saves at the last two holes to keep his championship hopes alive. Wong, 36, meanwhile, said he wouldn’t be fazed by the weight of expectation as he goes in search of his maiden victory.
“I aim to play positively and really focus on my own game; I won’t worry about what the others are doing. Hopefully I can continue to play well, so let’s see.”
The trio stand at one-under-par for the championship after compiling contrasting rounds over the Eden Course at Fanling. But with top six players separated by only two shots, an exciting finale at Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club lies in wait.
Final Round – 6 January
Park’s love affair with the FTLife HKPGA Championship continued as the Koreanborn Australian held off the challenge of his compatriot, defending champion Barr, with a two-under-par 68 to finish with a three-
under total. Barr, who like Park is an Asian Tour regular, was also round in 68 to end one shot shy, while Hong Kong’s Shinichi Mizuno, playing in his first event as a pro, finished in a share of third place alongside Wong Woon-man, two further shots back.
“I didn’t make it easy on myself but I was happy to be able to hang on and get it done. It’s a great feeling.” The 42-year-old Park said, who finished second to Barr 12 months ago and collected a cheque for HK$100,000 with the title this year.
Park, who started the round in a share of the lead alongside Wong and Hong Kong veteran Boulet, flew out of the gates with three front-nine birdies to establish a healthy lead. A double bogey at the 13th cut the Singapore-based player’s lead to just two, but a timely birdie at the par-5 15th followed by a steady run of pars was enough to deny a fastfinishing Barr.
Anthony Kang earned fifth spot, while Boulet, who had downplayed his chances of earning a third FTLife HKPGA title, slumped to a disappointing 77 to finish in sixth.
“After I made double I saw how close it had become, with Scott making a move. It wasn’t so comfortable at that point but I’m proud of the way I knuckled down and got across the finishing line,” added Park.
Barr, who returned to Asian Tour Qualifying School a week after, was left to
rue a decidedly cold putter but was quick to point out the positives from Hong Kong outing.
“I tried really hard and it was a shame I didn’t get the putter going until late in my round. But my hat goes off to Unho, who obviously played really well to win again,” said the 44-year-old. “I’ve had a great time and it sets me up really well for next week, which is a massive week for me. I learnt a lot about where my game is, so it’s been a very positive experience.”
Mizuno, 23, would join Barr at Asian Tour Qualifying School and was delighted with the way he capped off his fine professional debut, going bogey-free on the final day.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” said the former Hong Kong Amateur champion. “I didn’t start the championship well, so to finish with a 67 and move up the leader board was a very nice way to begin my professional career.”
51-year-old Dominique Boulet rolled back the years to take the first-round lead
Wong Hoi-kin made a holein-one at the par-3 eighth at the first-round
Wong Woon-man hold a share of the lead through two rounds of action
Park relied on two amazing par saves at the last two holes at the second-round to keep his championship hopes alive
Clockwise from top: Bromance between fellow national teammates Humphrey Wong (left) and Steven Lam (right); Hong Kong amateur Terrance Ng (left) and veteran James Stewart (right); Shinichi Mizuno, playing in his first event as a pro, finished in a share of third place; Defending champion Scott Barr ended one shot shy to lost the title.