Ho Tram, Vietnam: Sergio Garcia survived a tense sudden-death play-off to secure a suitably dramatic victory in the inaugural US$1.5 million Ho Tram Open – ‘Asia’s Grandest Stage’.
Seemingly home-and-dry after a brilliant front nine 29, the Spaniard struggled to a back-nine 39 on a gripping day of golf at The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip, a Golf Facility Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.
That meant he ended the regulation 72 holes at 14-under-par 270 – level with Indian Himmat Rai, Thai Thaworn Wiratchant and Taiwan’s Lin Wen-tang.
Thaworn and Lin were eliminated at the first extra hole – the par-four 18th – where they could only manage to make pars.
Meanwhile, Garcia and Rai both holed birdie efforts to extend extra-time, to the delight of the large galleries that flocked to the venue, some two hours from Ho Chi Minh City.
Returning to the 18th for the second play-off hole, Garcia made a solid par after finding a fairway bunker with his drive.
But Rai ran into trouble, pulling his tee-shot into a bush from where he did well just to advance it to the fairway. A good approach left him a 15-footer for par but the putt slid by the cup, enabling Garcia to claim his first win of 2015.
Garcia’s 23rd career Tour victory and his first since January, 2014 came with a cheque of US$270,000.
By his own admission, it ended up being considerably more difficult than it looked likely to be for Garcia.
“Winning is never easy. I was fortunate and you have to be lucky to win. I was fortunate to get a second chance after I pretty much gave it away. I’m very happy as I haven’t won in a while. After you’ve been up there and you don’t win, a lot of things go through your mind and this win will help give me a little bit more confidence,” said the world number 12, who began the day in joint second position, two strokes behind pace-setting Lin.
But a flawless front nine that included six birdies saw him spring clear of the field.
“It was a strange day. It felt like I was so much under control, the way I played the front nine. Then I hit a bad tee shot on 10 but I still managed to get it back together and had some chances which I didn’t make. Then I hit a poor shot on 17,” said Garcia.
“I gave it away and they gave me another chance. It was just luck for me. I had 30 to 35 feet (in the first play-off hole), and even if you hit a great putt, you need to get lucky. Then I managed to get to the next hole and unfortunately Rai pulled it a bit left into the bushes and I managed to make four and that was it.”
While there was relief for Garcia, there was disappointment for the joint runners-up.
Rai, who holed out from the fairway for an eagle at 16, three-putted the 18th during regulation play, while Lin three-putted the 17th and Thaworn scrambled to get up-and-down from the left of the final green.
Also left to ponder what might have been was Dane Thomas Bjorn, who soared up the leaderboard but suffered his only dropped shot of the day at 18, for a round of 65. He missed out on the play-off by one stroke.