| HONMA Hong Kong Open Re­view

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Louie Chan

Aaron Rai held off a fu­ri­ous chal­lenge from com­pa­triot Matthew Fitz­patrick to com­plete his vic­tory.

Aaron Rai of Eng­land led from the start to se­cure his maiden Eu­ro­pean Tour win at the Hong Kong Golf Club to be­come the 60th Cham­pion of the HONMA Hong Kong Open. The 23-year-old from Wolver­hamp­ton felt right at home in the pour­ing rain as he held off fel­low English­man Matthew Fitz­patrick to se­cure a one-shot vic­tory,

Al­though hold­ing a six-shot lead af­ter 54 holes, Aaron Rai had to de­fend strongly against an on-fire Matthew Fitz­patrick, who fired a six­un­der-par 64 for a four­round to­tal of 264. The 23-year-old never ac­tu­ally sur­ren­dered the lead on Sun­day but saw his overnight ad­van­tage cut to a sin­gle stroke by Fitz­patrick dur­ing a thrilling fi­nal­round bat­tle in the pour­ing rain at Hong Kong Golf Club.

Five-time Eu­ro­pean Tour win­ner Fitz­patrick had fired seven birdies in his first 16 holes to mount a chal­lenge on Rai. “Matt played in­cred­i­ble all day,” said Rai. “He had been putting so well and you don’t want to see that. It did give me a cush­ion down the 18, which is nice and it’s good to have as many shots as pos­si­ble.”

Fitz­patrick, a five-time win­ner on the Eu­ro­pean Tour, was fe­ro­cious in his chase of Rai, who fought back with birdies that kept his chance. The key mo­ment was on the 17th when Fitz­patrick missed a par putt to fall two be­hind Rai head­ing to the fi­nal hole. “It was great,” said Fitz­patrick. “Ob­vi­ously dis­ap­point­ing on 17th there, such a sim­ple bo­gey. It was al­ways go­ing to be tough to beat him. The last two days, he’s been very solid and not given any­thing away.”

On the 18th, Fitz­patrick re­cov­ered from a poor drive off the tee to get up and down for par and all Rai had to do was par or bo­gey to lift the ti­tle. He fell short of a par but eas­ily tapped in for bo­gey. The English­man didn’t raise his arms nor scream in de­light, but sim­ply sighed and looked at the gallery.

De­spite card­ing a bo­gey at the last, Rai signed for a clos­ing 69 to fin­ish on 17 un­der par and open the 2019 Race to Dubai cam­paign with a stun­ning wire-to-wire vic­tory in just his 46th Eu­ro­pean Tour ap­pear­ance.

“It’s in­cred­i­ble,” said Rai, who was joint leader af­ter the first round and then took the out­right lead for good thanks to his cours­ere­cord nine-un­der 61 on Fri­day. Rai, who has won three times on the Chal­lenge Tour, picked up the win­ner’s cheque for US$333,330 in 2018 HONMA Hong Kong Open.

Fitz­patrick’s sen­sa­tional 64 saw him fin­ish alone in sec­ond on 16 un­der, with Chal­lenge Tour grad­u­ate Vic­tor Perez and Aus­tralian Ja­son Scrivener five shots fur­ther back in a tie for third place. Scot David Drys­dale was on his own in fifth af­ter Sun­day’s 66, while In­dia’s

Shub­hankar Sharma and Span­ish pair Ser­gio Gar­cia and Rafa Cabr­era Bello were an­other stroke back in a share of sixth.

Mas­ters cham­pion Patrick Reed closed with a one-un­der 69 to fin­ish on 278 and joint 35th place. The Amer­i­can pro­duced six birdies in his fi­nal seven holes on Fri­day to get to level par and avoided missing the cut.

Dur­ing the post tour­na­ment press con­fer­ence, the newly crowned cham­pion was asked how he would feel if he were to re­turn to Hong Kong in 10 years and find that the Hong Kong Golf Club course had been turned into build­ings, “You know, it would be a real shame if that was to hap­pen.

“We play so many amaz­ing cour­ses on the Eu­ro­pean Tour, and some­times the play­ers as a whole are very hard to please and you kind of get mixed re­views about cour­ses week to week,” added Rai.

“But this is one of those rare venues where 99.9% of the peo­ple love it. It’s not crazy long. It’s tough. You have to think well, and you have to play well, and there are not many cour­ses like this in the world, let alone Hong Kong, so that would be a shame.”

Aaron Rai picked up the win­ner’s cheque for US$333,330 in 2018 HONMA Hong Kong Open

Matthew Fitz­patrick’s sen­sa­tional 64 saw him fin­ish alone in sec­ond on 16 un­der

Ser­gio Gar­cia fin­ished tied sixth

Tommy Fleet­woodfin­ished tied four­teenth with a dis­ap­point­ing 73 inthe fi­nal round

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