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Friday, 19 March 2010

Liang Wen-chong became only the second Chinese golfer to win on The European Tour when he defeated Malaysia’s Iain Steel at the first hole of a sudden-death play-off to claim the Clariden Leu Singapore Masters at the Laguna National Golf Club.

Incredibly, Liang’s victory came at exactly the same location where the first Chinese to succeed on The European Tour had done back in 2003, when Zhang Lian-wei came from behind on the Masters Course to beat Ernie Els and win the Singapore Masters.

Zhang’s joy was unbridled that day and while his younger compatriot looked slightly bemused at the furore surrounding his victory, in the cold light of day he will be as delighted with a success which gave him a first prize of €139,075 (£94,218) and an exemption on The European Tour until the end of the 2009 season, as well as moving him to 16th on the Order of Merit.

The bare statistics tell that Liang and Steel, both Affiliate Members of The European Tour at the start of the week, ended the tournament on 11 under par 277 after respective closing rounds of 73 and 71, one shot clear of third place Simon Dyson of England who finished with a 71 for 278. They also tell that Liang took the spoils with a regulation par four on the first play-off hole when Steel’s drive flew into the water hazard to the left of the 18th fairway.

But they do little to tell the tale of an extraordinary final afternoon where bogeys and double bogeys were the order of the day amongst the leaders instead of the usual birdies and eagles – giving the feel of a tournament that nobody wanted to win.

Liang and Steel were not immune to the chaos, Liang racking up a double bogey seven at the 15th before recovering with a birdie three at the 16th while Steel saw his chance of a regulation holes victory disappear with his own double bogey six at the 16th.

"I’m very relaxed and happy," said Wen-chong. "This is a great tournament and I feel like it’s a good start.

"I think the key for me was not giving up after playing 15. I think it was that mindset that helped me win. I felt the most pressure on the 17th hole. On the 15th hole, when I saw the leaders at 13 under, I thought my chances were slim but didn’t give up.

"But on the 16th it was 11 under and I was nervous because I thought I had a chance. I managed to birdie that hole and managed to par 17th, and that’s when I knew I was in contention."

Turning for home, India’s Jyoti Randhawa also harboured hopes of his first European Tour success before a double bogey five at the 17th brought an end to a wretched run which saw him drop four shots in seven holes, while Ireland’s Peter Lawrie’s outside hopes of a maiden title also disappeared with his own double bogey at the 16th.

But perhaps the biggest collapse befell England’s Nick Dougherty, the 2005 champion and the man who was desperate for a second title having finished runner-up to Mardan Mamat 12 months ago.

The 24 year old’s hopes looked slim when he dropped out of the leading contenders with his first double bogey of the day at the short eighth. However, showing grit and determination, he battled back and birdies at the tenth, 11th, 14th and 15th, incredibly, put him in the lead as he appeared to keep his head as all around him were losing theirs.

However, it all went wrong for Dougherty in a spectacular 20 minute spell on the 16th and 17th holes. Short of the green in two at the par four 16th, he tried to fly the ball at the flag and check it with spin, but hit it thinly and the ball flew over the back of the putting surface from where he proceeded to make double bogey six.

Believing he needed two birdies to finish, he attempted too much at the treacherously difficult 202 yard 17th and when his ball found the water on the way to a second consecutive double bogey, he knew his chance had gone. The fact he missed an irrelevant three foot birdie putt at the last, summed up his day perfectly. But he remained philosophical.

"Obviously I’m disappointed but I did extremely well to get into the position I did and played some fantastic golf over the week which I am delighted with," he said. "I must be if I can say that now because believe me at the moment the last thing I feel is happy about my golf but if I am to be honest with myself, I did myself proud to get myself into a position to win and I should have won.

"It looks like I would have won if I had stuck around at my score before the double bogeys. But I played aggressively – that’s how I got to that position in the first place – so you know, all in all, what can you do?"

With Dougherty consigned to a share of fourth place alongside his fellow Englishmen David Lynn and Anthony Wall and Frenchman Jean Van de Velde, it was left to another Englishman, Simon Dyson, to see if he could break into the play-off.

But the two time winner on The European Tour International Schedule could not make it three. He dropped a shot at the 16th and could not produce the birdie at the last which would have taken him to extra holes, a result of hitting his drive so well that if flew through the fairway and into the rough.

"I should have won," he said. "You just need a bit of luck to win tournaments too and I am just not getting any. I didn’t have any in Malaysia and I haven’t had any today. To be fair I didn’t play as nicely today as I have been. I managed to scramble it brilliantly but then when I was hitting good shots, I wasn’t getting the rewards.

"I feel for Nick though. If I couldn’t have won it, I hoped he would because he is one of my best mates so it is a bit disappointing for us both and I am sure he felt the same when he was out of it, I bet he saw the leaderboard and said, ‘Come on Dyse’. It’s a shame but it is still a good week for us. I have never really done well round this course but I have managed to grind a score out which tells me a lot about myself."

With everyone else having fallen by the wayside, it was left to Liang and Steel to battle it out. Given what had gone before, it was no surprise that the play-off was decided by a mistake when Steel’s drive flew into the water.

"I should have finished it off earlier," he said. "On the 16th I three putted and made double bogey. Into the play-off I was quite confident and had a picture in my mind off the tee but I just didn’t execute it, simple as that. I pictured it going out to the right and drawing back into the fairway but I just came over the top and pulled it into the water.

"As long as I keep putting myself into this position I will learn from it. I played well in Indonesia and last week and again here this week. So I can go on from here."

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
T1STEEL, IainMAS18-11
T1LIANG, Wen-chongCHN18-11
3DYSON, SimonENG18-10
T4LYNN, DavidENG18-9
T4DOUGHERTY, NickENG18-9
T4VAN DE VELDE, JeanFRA18-9
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