| 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.

HK Golfer - - Contents - By 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.

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