New Zealand's Richard Lee struck it rich at the US$500,000 Thai Airways International Thailand Open on Sunday, winning his maiden Asian Tour title after a play-off victory over Australian Scott Barr.
The 31-year-old Lee carded a final round of two-under-par 70 on a blustery day at Blue Canyon Country Club to tie overnight joint leader Barr on nine-under-par 279. Lee went on to win the first sudden-death hole with a par as Barr, who had held at least a share of the lead since the first day, bogeyed after a wayward drive.
Last week's Myanmar Open champion Scott Strange, who called a rule infringement on himself en route to a 72, finished third with American Bryan Saltus on 280 while India's Harmeet Kahlon finished fifth, a further stroke back, after a closing 74.
"It feels a bit strange at the moment, a bit surreal I supposed," said Lee, who won US$78,750. "I didn't really imagine I would go on to win. You reach a stage when you wonder where you're headed to.
"I turned pro since I was 20 and I've struggled for a long time. I've played a bit in Japan and Australia and I started to think maybe it's coming to an end. It's nice to finally win an event, it really is."
Strong winds made it a tough scoring day with overnight co-leader Kahlon, Strange and Barr swapping the lead. Lee, who started the day two off the pace, turned in even par with a birdie on one offset by a dropped shot on the third but surged up the leaderboard with birdies on the 11th and 15th holes.
Lee said he thought his playing days were numbered during last week's Myanmar Open where he shot 80 and 75 to miss the cut.
"Last week, I absolutely hated the game. In the last nine holes of my second round, I started to tinker with my swing and I found something and this week, I started to putt better and things just came into place. This opens many doors for me."
This was the second time that Singapore-based Barr had lost in a play-off in his search for the elusive first Asian Tour title.
"It's a shame. I feel like I played well enough but it was a bit short of the line. It was a tough day to play but I played pretty well, hung in there till the end. And a play off is a play off isn't it as it can go any way," said Barr, who lost in a shootout to Colin Montgomerie for the 2003 Macau Open.
Barr hooked his drive in the play-off into a flowerbed but received a free drop. After Lee hit the green in regulation, Barr failed to find the putting surface and then sent his third shot well past the flag to hand victory to his rival.
"I caught a flyer out of the rough. That was a bad finish, I knew that. This game is about one thing. It's a shame to come up short. I played solid all week and will have to come back next time," said Barr.
India's Kahlon and last week's winners Strange swapped leads on the front nine before fading. Strange came up one stroke short of the play-off in the end and a penalty stroke called on himself on the sixth green when his ball moved during his putting stroke proved to be pivotal.
"The guys didn't see it. I started my putt and the ball moved a millimetre or two. The line marker (on his ball) actually moved a little. As I was doing my stroke, I finished off the putt. After eight holes, I spoke to the tournament director Wanchai Meechai and he said it would be a one shot penalty. I thought I had a red hot chance to win this afternoon. Had a three putt on 11 which was a brain explosion and that cost me as well."
Kahlon's title charge faded when he double-bogeyed the 11th with an errant drive and sent his tee shot at the signature par three 14th hole into the watery grave.
"I didn't hit the ball too well and missed a few fairways from off the tee. I couldn't score as well as I needed to. Mentally I was good but hit too many missed fairways. On the back nine, I hit a few shots left and that was about it. I drove it left on 11, hit it out and settled for a double bogey there. On another hole, I could have got away with it. It was a bit expensive."
Thailand's Prayad Marksaeng was the best local finisher when he came in joint sixth, shooting a final day 73 for a 285 total. India's Jeev Milkha Singh and Angelo Que of the Philippines, who started the day well in contention, faded badly with 78s for a share of 10th place.
Leading final round scores
279 - Richard Lee (NZL) 70-70-69-70, Scott Barr (AUS) 65-68-74-72
(Lee wins in first hole of sudden-death shootout with a par)
280 - Bryan Saltus (USA) 70-72-70-68, Scott Strange (AUS) 68-67-73-72 281 - Harmeet Kahlon (IND) 70-70-67-74
285 - Ross Bain (SCO) 72-73-71-69, Larry Austin (AUS) 72-69-72-72, Chris Rodgers (ENG) 70-70-73-72, Prayad Marksaeng (THA) 72-70-70-73
286 - Wang Ter-chang (TPE) 72-73-70-71, Jeev Milkha Singh (IND) 65-69-74-78, Angelo Que (PHI) 71-70-67-78
287 - Andrew Buckle (AUS) 70-75-71-71, Andrew Pitts (USA) 71-75-70-71, Koji Katoh (JPN) 73-69-72-73, Greg Hanrahan (USA) 68-74-72-73
288 - Lin Keng-Chi (TPE) 69-73-76-70, Rick Gibson (CAN) 74-69-72-73, Kang Wook-Soon (KOR) 73-71-71-73, Noppajak Meesom (THA) 67-75-72-74, Gerry Norquist (USA) 69-72-72-75
289 - Martin Doyle (AUS) 69-75-76-69, Thaworn Wiratchant (THA) 74-73-70-72, Mike Capone (USA) 71-69-70-79290 - Lu Wen-Teh (TPE) 71-75-74-70, Adam Blyth (AUS) 72-69-76-73, Chinarat Phadungsil [A] (THA) 70-72-73-75, Ron Won (USA) 69-73-73-75, Jason Knutzon (USA) 72-70-73-75, Yoshinobu Tsukada (JPN) 66-76-72-76, Craig Warren (AUS) 71-72-71-76.