Haikou, China: Josh Geary savoured the biggest victory of his career when he captured the Buick Open at Mission Hills Haikou.
The 30-year-old New Zealander – four off the lead at the start of play – leapt from the chasing pack with five birdies on the front nine and held on as the challenge of others melted away in the scorching heat.
Geary carded a four-under 68 on Mission Hills Haikou’s par-72 Sandbelt Trails course to finish on eight-under 280 for the tournament – one shot clear of Korea’s JH Wang, who returned a 70.
Overnight co-leaders John Young Kim of the United States and Cao Yi of China, who started on eight-under, each returned a four-over 76. Cao finished with a triple-bogey eight on the final hole when he needed a birdie to catch Geary.
The much-travelled Geary, hailing from Tauranga in New Zealand, confirmed Sunday’s success was the highlight of his career so far.
“All in all, it’s been a fantastic week. I’ve won on the Canadian Tour and Australasian Tour but they were both smaller events, so this is the biggest win of my career,” he said. “I’ve been hitting the ball pretty well all four days but the difference today was that a few more putts dropped in and I got a bit of momentum going.
“I hit the ball great yesterday and the same on Friday but nothing really dropped for me. I was building towards playing really well and just needed a few more putts to go in and that’s what happened for me today.
“Starting out today I was really hoping to win and thought if I shot a good number it was possible, given the conditions and the way the course was playing, which was very tough.”
It was another day of scorching heat and gusting winds at the RMB1.2 million Buick Open – the opening event of the 2015 PGA Tour China Series season.
After his sizzling front nine, Geary notched another birdie on 11 to reach 10-under – giving him a two-shot cushion over the faltering Cao. However, bogeys on 15 and 17 and a missed short birdie putt on the last left him sweating as he waited greenside on the 18th for Cao to finish.
But the 24-year-old Cao, who had held the outright lead or a share of it from day one – bogeyed the 17th to fall one shot behind and then ran into serious trouble at the last, pushing his drive into unplayable rough and landing his fourth shot in a water hazard.
Geary is playing his first year on the PGA China Tour after successfully coming through the First Global Qualifying Tournament in January and he was left to reflect on a perfect start to his Chinese campaign.
“I’ve been very impressed with Mission Hills Haikou. It’s my first time here and they have been fantastic hosts. The courses are superb,” he said.
“The conditions this week have made it tough and I’ve had to play very well to win. I’ve been fortunate enough to win a couple of times before on other Tours and every bit of experience helps when you’re in this position.
“I’m going to try to play at least 10 China Tour events this year. There are a few that clash with other tournaments overseas, but that’s my aim.”
Wang, the Korean teenager who was runaway winner of the Mission Hills Haikou Open a year ago when the resort hosted the first ever PGA China Tour event, started the day three behind the leaders. But a double-bogey six on the second put a serious dent in his chances and, despite conjuring three birdies on his final four holes, he came up just short.
Thailand’s Gunn Charoenkul carded a 71 to claim outright third on five-under. Joining Cao and Kim on four-under were Chinese teenager Dou Zecheng and Australian Jamie Arnold, who both shot 72.
The Buick Open was the first of 13 tournaments on this year’s PGA China Tour schedule. At the season’s end, the top five in the Order of Merit will earn playing rights on the Web.com Tour in the United States.
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