Kiwi Flies High at Hong Kong Golf Club

Ben Campbell with the Hong Kong Open trophy. Picture by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.

Hong Kong: Ben Campbell drained a 15-foot birdie putt on the famous par-four 18th hole to win the US$2 million Hong Kong Open after a gripping battle over the closing stages with playing partners Cam Smith and Phachara Khongwatmai.

New Zealander Campbell, who had not led at any stage of the tournament until that brilliant last putt, shot a four-under-par 66 to finish on 19-under and beat Australian Smith by one and Thai Phacahara by two.

Smith returned a 68 and Phachara a 69 at the Hong Kong Golf Club, while Canadian Richard T. Lee came in with a 64 to tie for third.

Playing together in the final pairing, Campbell, Smith and Phachara were tied after 71 holes with the chance of a sudden-death play-off very high.

However, Campbell won it in normal time after Smith had to lay up with his second shot and nearly holed his third before making a four, while Phachara missed his birdie putt from 25-feet and three-putted after missing a three-footer.

For Campbell, who also birdied the 17th, this is his maiden win on the Asian Tour. His only other win in the professional game came in the 2018 New Zealand PGA Championship.

“It’s good to finally get the monkey off the back. I just battled away all day,” said Campbell. “I didn’t get off to the greatest of starts and the swing wasn’t feeling that great. Last night, I went back to a few close losses and wrote a few notes down in my yardage book.I really used them on those last four or five holes.

“It was getting a bit tight in the swing and just from those past experiences I managed to, I think, put a couple of nice swings coming down the stretch.”

The victory is also just reward for a player who has struggled with injuries and missed six months last year due to a back issue which required surgery.

He said: “Even probably four months ago I was battling with the body. I’ve had quite a few operations, and bulged discs in the back and things like that. So I had to change the swing quite a bit, especially in the last two or three years.”

Campbell is the third Kiwi to win the Hong Kong Open after Frank Nobilo in 1997 and Walter Godfrey in 1972.

Smith and Phachara started the day sharing the lead with Campbell one back.

Phachara looked to be heading for the win when he birdied three in a row from 11 and led by one from Smith and two from Campbell with three to go.

However, drama unfolded on the par-four 16th when he hooked his tee shot into the trees. He chose to try and hit his ball back into play from a treacherous lie but failed to get it out before just being able to advance his ball to the edge of the fairway with the next. He ended up making a costly double. He birdied the next hole before his disappointing finish on 18.

“Today my putting was not so good like the last three days, but I played well from the beginning until the 16th hole,” said Phachara.

“Playing with world class players like Cameron was an honour, and I did well until the last. However, it’s just not my time yet.”

Smith struggled with his driver and long irons over the weekend and was disappointed not to win for the first time in Asia.

“Pretty poor over the weekend I guess but I hung in there so lots of positives,” said the 2022 Open Championship winner. “It definitely wasn’t the nicest golf I played over last couple of days.”

American Andy Ogletree was the other big winner after he was confirmed as the winner of The International Series Order of Merit, which hands him a ‘golden ticket’ onto next year’s multi-million dollar LIV Golf League.

“I am so excited to win the Order of Merit,” said Ogletree, who finished joint 15th following a closing 69 at the Hong Kong Golf Club, a Facility Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.

The Asian Tour heads to the BNI Indonesian Masters presented by TNE next week. The US$1.5 million event will be played at Royale Jakarta Golf Club and is the final International Series event of the season, and the third from last tournament on the Asian Tour schedule.

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