Ireland’s Padraig Harrington launched the new European Tour International Schedule with a victory for the second successive year when he birdied the final two holes to edge out South African, Hennie Otto, in the Omega Hong Kong Open at Hong Kong Golf Club
In November last year, Harrington flew to Taiwan for the opening tournament of the 2003 season and left as champion of the BMW Asian Open. This time, Harrington teed up in Hong Kong for the first event of the 2004 campaign and again took home the trophy once again after a dramatic climax to the seasonal opener.
The Dubliner needed to finish with that double-birdie flourish after Otto had charged past him with a five under par 65 and posted the clubhouse target on 270, ten under par. Harrington had to work hard to save par on the 16th then regained his composure and birdied the par four 17th to set up a thrilling finale.
Arriving on the final tee tied with Otto – who led after the first round of the Open Golf Championship at Royal St Georges in July - Harrington played a confident tee shot down the middle, struck an approach over the water to 20 feet and then delighted the galleries at the Hong Kong Golf Club by sinking the winning putt and completing a round of 66.
Harrington took the title by one stroke from Otto, who in turn finished three shots clear of Denmark’s Thomas Björn, Irishman Darren Clarke, England’s Chris Gane and defending champion Fredrik Jacobson, who were all tied for third on seven under par on a high quality leaderboard.
Victory moved Harrington into the top ten in the European Ryder Cup Points List in ninth place, just ahead of Clarke, with a total of 445,339. Jacobson consolidated second place behind Lee Westwood with 732,672.
Harrington said: “I was happy with my game, I was expecting to do well and knew that a lot of people would have to shoot well to keep up with me. The first nine holes I focused really well, hit all the fairways, all the greens and had 15 footers all the way - it was as easy a three under par as I've ever shot.
"I didn't particularly like the tee shot on the tenth and was just trying to stay ahead of (overnight leader) Christopher Hanell over the next three holes and it was only when I got to the 16th I realised Hennie had overtaken me.
"My mindset changed totally and I got very aggressive and really got back into focus on those last three holes there. It was nice to turn it around like that."
Harrington overshot the 16th and was faced with a tricky chip back from the lip of the bunker, but got up and down in par and then birdied the last two holes for the title.
"I knew it was all or nothing at the time. That made it a lot easier because I knew I had to play it perfectly2 he added.
Hanell, from Sweden, had led after three rounds but shot a final 72 for a share of seventh while European Tour Qualifying School champion, Richard McEvoy of England, tied for 15th after leading the tournament for the first two rounds – a superb achievement havaing come from the Qualifying School Finals to make his first start with a Tour card in his pocket.
Hanell and McEvoy, like Harrington, Björn, Clarke and Jacobson, all collected precious Ryder Cup points to carry into the next event on The 2004 European Tour International Schedule, the South African Airways Open, in January.