Chongqing, China: With his play-off victory at the Chongqing Championship, Taihei Sato wrote his name into the record books as the first player from Japan to win on the PGA Tour Series-China.
“It feels great to be the first Japanese player to win on this Tour but there are lots of great Japanese golfers. I think more players are coming to play here so I think you might see more players from Japan winning,” predicted Ibaraki-born Sato, who turned pro in 2015.
After relinquishing the lead on the 12th hole during the final round of the Tour’s season-opener – an advantage Sato had held each of the first three rounds – the Japanese recovered to still have an opportunity to win on the final hole of regulation. Sato faced a six-foot, right-to-left-breaking birdie putt that would have secured the victory. But it was a putt he couldn’t get to drop.
Nonetheless, all that miss did was to prolong the ecstasy he would feel later when he defeated China’s ‘William’ Liu Yanwei at the third hole of a sudden-death play-off.
Sato and Liu both went par-birdie on the first and second extra holes – held on Poly Golf Club’s par-five 18th. The play-off then moved to the par-three 17th. Both players hit the green with their tee shots, but Liu couldn’t convert his 23-foot birdie putt and Sato could, from 11 feet.
“It wasn’t the first win in my career, but this might be the best,” Sato said. “I’m very happy to win the first event, especially when there were so many good players in the field. I was playing so well all week, so I was getting desperate to win.”
When Liu eagled the par-five 15th in regulation, chipping in from 80 feet, it looked like that wouldn’t happen, that it would be Liu’s day. However, a turning point in the round came two holes later, drama unfolding on 17 about an hour before the denouement occurred.
When Sato missed the green on his tee shot and couldn’t get up and down for par, Liu had a two-foot putt for par to take sole possession of the lead going to the 18th hole. From almost tap-in range, Liu inexplicably missed the putt.
“That was really a bummer. That would have given me a one-shot lead,” said Liu. “Overall, it was a great week, but I’m pretty disappointed.”
David Kocher, who finished his first Series tournament with four birdies over his final five holes, ended alone in third, a shot out of the play-off. Max McGreevy birdied 17 to move to 16-under and earn solo fourth.