José Manuel Lara finally delivered his long-awaited maiden European Tour title with a wire-to-wire victory in the UBS Hong Kong Open. A final round of 69 for a 15 under par total of 265 earned the Spaniard one stroke triumph over Filipino Juvic Pagunsan on a thrilling afternoon at Fanling.
Four times Lara has finished runner-up on The European Tour but he shed the bridesmaid tag by winning in the most impressive fashion, from pillar to post. Lara looked in control throughout the tournament in taking a two stroke lead into the final round but rookie Pagunsan almost defied the odds.
Lara had a three stroke advantage after two holes of the final round following a Pagunsan bogey by the jovial Filipino chipped away at Lara’s lead with an outstanding putting display and when Lara bogeyed the seventh and ninth, they were level.
Pagunsan edged ahead with another birdie on the 11th before Lara drew level again with a birdie on the 13th. But another birdie putt dropped for Pagunsan on the 14th and the trophy looked to be within his grasp. The 16th , however, proved pivotal when Pagunsan bogeyed after hooking his drive into trouble and Lara seized the opportunity by making birdie to regain the lead. Two pars later the Spaniard was crowned champion.
“This is my time,” said Lara. “It is a great victory. I lost my lead today but took my chance over the last few holes. Juvic got in front of me. He was a better player than I thought, especially on the greens. He putted so well. I think I was too confident but I got my chance on the 16th and that gave me the trophy but it has been a really tough day.
“You wouldn’t believe the number of people who ask me when will I win. Now I can say I have. This is a very important moment in my life. Winning and leading every day. I was thinking of my first victory and coming from behind but to lead from the start is fantastic.”
Lara becomes the third Spaniard to win the UBS Hong Kong Open title after José Maria Olazábal and Miguel Angel Jiménez and as the winning putt dropped Jiménez stepped forward to be the first to offer his congratulations.
“Miguel knew today was a tough day for me,” said Lara. “I have been close many times and he knew that. He said to me forget about everything and you are alone on the course. I tried to stay in my bubble and it was a great day.”
Pagunsan delighted the record crowds at Hong Kong Golf Club with an outstanding display on his way to a two under par 68 and especially his demeanour on the course with every shot greeted with a broad smile. Even losing the lead couldn’t wipe the smile from his face.
“I always smile for the crowd, I don’t want to be sad,” he said. “I’m really happy I played well and there are many more tournaments to come for me. This is a good tournament and Lara played really well. But I have a lot of confidence now.”
Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand and the Indian pair of Jeev Milkha Singh and Jyoti Randhawa shared third place on 12 under par 268. That was good enough to seal the Asian Tour UBS Order of Merit for Singh before the season’s finale next month.
China’s Liang Wen-chong was also celebrating after winning a 1kg bar of golf, courtesy of sponsors UBS for his hole-in-one on the 12th. Liang holed from 140 yards with a nine iron to claim the prize worth US$20,000.
|1||LARA, José Manuel||ESP||18||-15|
|T3||SINGH, Jeev Milkha||IND||18||-12|
|T6||JIMÉNEZ, Miguel Angel||ESP||18||-11|