Wi foilsThongchai's historic bid

Sun 19 Feb 2006

Wi foilsThongchai's historic bid

Kuala Lumpur, February 19: Korea’s Charlie Wi produced a stunning comeback in a nail-biting final day to lift the US$1.25 Maybank Malaysian Open with a third and final round of nine-under-par 63.

The 34-year-old Wi birdied his last hole at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club to dash Thongchai’s dream of a historic third victory in Malaysia. The Korean signed off the tournament, reduced to 54 holes because of bad weather, with a 19-under-par 197 total, one stroke better than Thongchai, who closed with a 66.

In an enthralling final day, Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin carded the week’s best with a 62 for third place on 199 while English duo Mark Foster and John Bickerton were a further stroke back.

Thai teenager Chinarat Phadungsil, winner of the Double A International Open on home soil last season, walked tall with sixth position alongside Aussie Gary Simpson. Thammanoon Srirot of Thailand, who led by one when play was halted on Saturday, stumbled with a 73 for a share of 13th while Shiv Kapur of India and compatriot Gaurav Ghei shared 18th spot on 206.

Wi, who resumed the third and final round three shots off the lead this morning, walked away with a handsome cheque of US$208,330 for his seventh Asian Tour victory. The win also shot him to the top of the UBS Order of Merit and made him the ninth player to surpass the US$1 million mark in career earnings.

“I'm really speechless. Coming in here, I wasn't expecting to win. I did have a nice practice session but I had no idea that I would make so many putts like I did today. You know, God was looking out for me as I got a lot of good breaks,” said Wi.

It was an action-packed day with the likes of Jacquelin, Thongchai, Foster and Wi all tied for the lead during the final round. Wi launched his title charge with a birdie on the fourth, followed by a 30-foot eagle at the next hole and turned in 31 with birdies on seventh and nine.

With the chasing pack hot on his heels, the Korean, who played last year on the US PGA Tour, grabbed the lead with birdies on the 10th, 13th and 16th holes before making a crucial par save on 17 before rolling in a five-foot putt at the last to clinch his biggest career win, and his first on the European Tour as well.

Thongchai, playing in the last group, fought gamely and had two cracks at forcing a play-off. He missed birdie putts from 20 feet and 15 feet respectively on the last two holes, and settled for second-best.

“”I just feel fortunate,” said Wi, who is the second Korean after K.J. Choi to win on the European Tour. “I looked at the board on 17 and I had no idea Thongchai birdied 16. I hit a really nice third shot to five feet and I thought for sure that would give me a two-shot lead. I didn't have any idea that I was tied for the lead. The putt went in and I just feel very fortunate.

“I don't think I denied him (Thongchai). He's such a solid player. I played with him a lot in 2001 when we were battling for number one and two spot on the Order of Merit and he is so much more confident now. Coming down the stretch, he's solid as a rock. Even on the last putt, I thought he was going to make it and that I would go into a play-off. Luckily, it just turned out my way,” said the Korean.

Thongchai was disappointed. “The line (on 18) was tricky, I read it right to the left but it broke too much left. It’s okay, I’m still happy. Charlie was very good with a really good score. I shot 66 which wasn’t good enough, I guess. I had birdie chances on the last two holes but didn’t make them,” said Thongchai, who walked away with US$138, 880

Jacquelin shot a scintillating 62 as he rocketed up the leaderboard to finish third. The 2005 Open de Madrid champion was tied for the lead on the 17th before Wi and Thongchai surged past him.

“I guess 54 holes were probably not good enough for me. The leaders had many birdie holes on 16, 17 and 18 which they took. It’s still nice, I’m pleased. I just ran out of holes really,” said Jacquelin, whose 62 was his fourth in his career.

“I played good, that’s for sure. It’s the kind of golf course where if you read the greens well, there are lots of chances which I took today. I had a good feeling on the greens and rolled the ball well. Had a bit of luck to hole so many putts.

Danny Chia and Shaaban Hussein were the best Malaysian performers in tied 31st place on 208. Chia closed with a 71 while Shaaban fired a 70.

The Maybank Malaysian Open is jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.

Leading third and final round scores

197: Charlie Wi (KOR) 66-68-63

198: Thongchai Jaidee (THA) 69-63-66

199: Raphael Jacquelin (FRA) 72-65-62

200: Mark Foster (ENG) 71-66-63, John Bickerton (ENG) 66-68-66

202: Gary Simpson (AUS) 67-68-67, Chinarat Phadungsil (THA) 70-66-66

203: Graeme Storm (ENG) 70-68-65, Mattias Eliasson (SWE) 70-67-66, Francesco Molinari (ITA) 66-67-70, David Park (WAL) 67-64-72

204: Keith Horne (RSA) 68-67-69

205: Jean-Francois Lucquin (FRA) 72-66-67, Padraig Harrington (IRL) 69-69-67, Chapchai Nirat (THA) 69-69-67, Gary Murphy (IRL) 66-68-71, Thammanoon Srirot (THA) 67-65-73

206: Prom Meesawat (THA) 68-70-68, Philip Archer (ENG) 72-66-68, Marcus Fraser (AUS) 69-69-68, Sam Little (ENG) 70-68-68, Scott Strange (AUS) 72-67-67, Simon Dyson (ENG) 68-70-68

Gaurav Ghei (IND) 68-71-67, Shiv Kapur (IND) 72-68-66, 207 - Richard Finch (ENG) 66-72-69, Lin Keng-Chi (TPE) 69-69-69, Steven O'Hara (SCO) 72-66-69, Andrew Butterfield (ENG) 69-70-68, Marcel Siem (GER) 71-70-66

208: Shaaban Hussein (MAS) 71-67-70, Alexandre Rocha (BRA) 70-69-69, Lu Wen-Teh (TPE) 68-71-69, Mikael Lundberg (SWE) 68-69-71, Thaworn Wiratchant (THA) 65-71-72, Danny Chia (MAS) 70-67-71