| HONMA Hong Kong Open Review
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