Hong Kong: Aaron Rai claimed his maiden European Tour title after holding off fellow-Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick to secure a one-shot victory at the Honma Hong Kong Open presented by Amundi.
The 23-year-old never actually surrendered the lead on Sunday but saw his six-shot overnight advantage cut to a single stroke by Fitzpatrick during a thrilling final-round battle in the pouring rain at Hong Kong Golf Club, a Golf Course Facility Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.
Five-time European Tour winner Fitzpatrick had fired seven birdies in his first 16 holes to pile the pressure on Rai but his challenge faltered when he carded his first bogey of the day at the 17th to give his compatriot a two-shot cushion with one hole remaining.
And 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.
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 a closing 66, while Indian Shubhankar Sharma and Spanish pair Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello were another stroke back in a share of sixth.
After seeing off a world-class field to claim his first win on the European Tour, Rai said: “It’s incredible. It definitely hasn’t sunk in yet. I’ll probably need a few days for that to happen.
“It’s incredible to win on any Tour, let alone The European Tour and let alone the Hong Kong Open.
“It’s an incredible course, incredible event, very well supported. The crowds have been amazing. I’m just very grateful.
“Matt played incredibly all day. It was tough. I just tried to play the course as much as possible, rather than Matt, or anyone else who was playing well today.
“I luckily managed to do that for most of the way around. It’s tough considering the situation but I’m very pleased.”
Fitzpatrick said: “Obviously it was disappointing on the 17th, such a simple bogey. But I gave it a good go. It was always going to be tough to beat him.
“The last two days he’s been very solid and not given anything away, which made my life more difficult.”