Lianwei pips Els to title


BY NIUH JIT ENG

SINGAPORE: A composed Zhang Lianwei of China came from behind to clinch a one-stroke victory in the Caltex Singapore Masters tournament at the Laguna National Golf and Country Club yesterday. 

Trailing overnight leader and tournament favourite Ernie Els of South Africa by two strokes at the start of the day, Lianwei battled until the very last hole to card a two-under 70 for a four-round total of 10-under 278. 

Both players made the halfway turn deadlocked at 11-under with Lianwei shooting three birdies for a bogey-free front nine while Els bogeyed the par-three eighth hole. 

Els, the world number two, did himself no favour in the back-nine by bogeying the 11th, 14th and 18th. He had a birdie on the 12th. 

Lianwei, who also dropped two shots in the 11th and 17th, kept his cool to birdie the last hole, which Els needed to par to force a playoff. 

Collecting US$150,000 for his first win of the year, Lianwei said that the victory was a breakthrough for him. 

“Winning this title is a milestone because it is my first victory on the European Tour. Previously, my best finish was fifth,” said Lianwei, who successfully defended the Macau Open last year. 

The Singapore Masters is co-sanctioned by the Asian and European Tours. 

Despite going neck-and-neck with Els, Lianwei said that he took his chances well on the last hole. 

“I was pretty excited after the front nine to tie the score with Ernie as I was two strokes behind at the start,” said Lianwei. 

“On the back nine, I just wanted to keep pace with Ernie and although I was one stroke behind after the 17th, I saw the opportunity to win when his approach shot hit the rough on the right side of the green while mine landed on the green. This was how I beat Ernie when he bogeyed that hole and I birdied.” 

Lianwei now wants to spend some time at home with the family in Shenzhen. 

“I am very happy with this win and I thank all the fans and media. But the Chinese New Year is coming and I just want to spend time with my family, especially to see my daughter before I resume playing,” he said. 

On his future plans, Lianwei, who has Tour cards on the Asian, Japanese and European Tours, said that he hoped to play more European events this year. 

“Last year, I played about 40 tournaments on the three Tours but I hope to concentrate more on the European Tour this year where I can probably learn more and improve as a player,” said Lianwei, who will play in the Johnnie Walker Classic in Perth in three weeks’ time. 

Meanwhile Els said that his poor putting put paid to his chances of winning the title. 

“I didn’t putt well at all. I was doing okay but from the 15th onwards, I didn’t play well,” said Els, who failed to secure his third consecutive victory after capturing the year’s first two US PGA Tour titles at the Mercedes Championships and Sony Open, both in Hawaii this month. 

“I felt the greens were a lot quicker and I struggled with the pace on the greens. The heat also got to me and in the end I felt a bit tired. It was tough. 

“But I have to take my hats off to Zhang, he stuck in well and didn’t make any mistakes.” 

Els does not have to wait long to make amends. He will be in Melbourne to defend the Heineken Classic title next week. 

“My family has been down there (Australia) for a week now. I guess they won’t be very happy with me (for losing in Singapore) when I get down there, but I’m just going to take it easy and spend some time with them,” quipped Els, who picked up US$100,000 for the runner-up spot. 

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