Hataji Scores Historic New Zealand Win

Takahiro Hataji with the New Zealand Open trophy.

Queenstown, New Zealand: Takahiro Hataji has created history with his first victory as a professional, becoming the first player from Japan to win the New Zealand Open in its 103-year history.

On an absorbing final day at the Millbrook Resort in Queenstown in the third leg of the 2024 Asian Tour campaign, Hataji held off a persistent stream of potential challengers with a bogey-free round of four-under 67 to win by a single stroke with a four-round total of 17-under.

Co-leader overnight, Australian Scott Hend (69), a former Asian Tour Order of Merit champion, arrived at the par-three 72nd hole with a share of the lead.

After hitting his tee shot to the back edge of the 18th green, Hend’s putt for the championship ran five feet past, his come-backer for par lipping out hard off the left edge to fall one shot short in outright second.

Boasting five top-five finishes on the Japan Golf Tour in 2023, 30-year-old Hataji is not only the first player from Japan to win the New Zealand Open but the first from Asia, surpassing the runner-up finishes of countrymen Tomoyo Ikemura (2023) and Hideto Tanihara (2016).

Hataji also becomes the first Japanese winner on the Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia since Isao Aoki won the 1989 Coca-Cola Classic at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.

“It was a really tough day but I have the trophy so I am feeling very happy now,” said Hataji after taking ownership of the Brodie Breeze Trophy.

“I’m happy but he (Hend) played very well so when his putt missed I felt a bit sorry for him,” he added of Hend’s final-hole misfortune.

New Zealand’s Josh Geary (69) required treatment for his troublesome back on the 12th tee yet battled on gamely to keep himself in the mix.

A birdie at the par-five 17th kept his faint hopes alive, a par at the last earning a share of third with Australians Matthew Griffin (70) and Anthony Quayle (67), the fourth top-five finish in his national Open.

“I am proud of my week, especially as I have lacked international play the last few months,” said Geary. “To come here and hold my nerve when things weren’t going great is rewarding. Couple of putts here and there and who knows. I would love to come back here and get the job done. Sometime we will do it.”

One back at the start of the final round, Hataji joined Hend and Griffin at 14-under with a birdie at his opening hole and was never headed at the top of the leaderboard.

Australian Ben Wharton rocketed into contention with a final round of seven-under 64, posting 14-under in the clubhouse as the lead groups were just getting their final rounds underway.

That stood until Quayle signed for 15-under but Hataji was always just out of reach.

Hend missed a number of birdie opportunities early in the back nine but drew to within one when he converted a birdie chance from four feet on the par-four 16th, the hole where he holed out for eagle 24 hours earlier.

Seeking to surpass Kel Nagle as the oldest winner of the New Zealand Open in the modern era, Hend backed up his birdie on 16 with birdie at the long 17th to join Hataji at 17-under and set up a thrilling climax for the large crowd gathered around the 18th green.

His tee shot released to the back edge after landing just to the right of the flag, his three putts a cruel way to be denied his own shot at history.

Taichi Kho, last year’s Asian Tour Rookie of the Year, closed with a 71 to finish in a share of 14th place at 12-under.

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