Sunday, 02 March 2008

New Zealand’s Mark Brown produced a stunning final nine holes to claim a dream victory in the Johnnie Walker Classic and a second title in a week.

Five birdies on the back nine stunned the field as he romped home in 31 at the DLF Golf and Country Club on the outskirts of New Delhi for a five under par 67 and 18 under par total of 270, securing a three stroke victory over the Australian pair of Greg Chalmers and Scott Strange and Japan’s Taichiro Kiyota.

Seven days earlier Brown won his maiden title on the Asian Tour when he captured the SAIL Open and he made it back-to-back titles in India with a breathtaking display over the closing stages in the event sanctioned by The European Tour, Asian Tour, PGA Tour of Australasia and PGTI.

Trailing overnight leader Kiyota by four strokes coming into the final nine holes, Brown turned on the gas with a burst of four successive birdies from the 12th as Kiyota, who looked totally in control in picking up three birdies on the front nine, started to fade. Brown’s surge edged him in front and when Kiyota three putted the 17th Brown had the luxury of a two-stroke cushion playing the final hole.

The drama was not over though as, after an ideal drive, he completely mishit his second shot which looked destined to be heading to the water guarding the front of the green. But the golfing gods were smiling on him and somehow it carried to the edge of the green from where he safely two putted for a final birdie and his maiden European Tour victory.

It was a dream come true for a player who became so disillusioned that he gave up the game for three years, turning his back on tournament golf to take up a teaching role in New Zealand. But after working with coach Mal Tongue he returned with added vigour and the rewards are immense.

Victory was worth €276,387 and lifted him to seventh on The European Tour Order of Merit. His victory also earned him a two year exemption on The European Tour and places his name among the great champions who have lifted the unique Johnnie Walker Classic trophy.

“It is amazing to have my name there,” he said. “I have worked extremely hard for this and it is a dream come true. I played for eight or nine years first time round and I wasn’t good enough physically or mentally. I have worked for three years to come back and my coach Mal Tongue has been a tremendous support. The last two weeks have been a blur.”

Looking back on his round, Brown admitted it wasn’t easy.

“I played terrible the front side, I don’t think I hit a fairway or green and got to the tenth and said to myself let’s have a solid nine holes and the birdies started falling. The rest is a dream.”

The dream was almost shattered with his second shot to the last. “It was the worst shot I’ve hit since I was 14! Totally out of the heel and so thin I thought it was completely in the water. It couldn’t go anywhere else. Luckily I had enough club with a six iron and it must have just scraped over. It was quite a relief after that.”

Now his attentions look set to turn to The European Tour, although he intends to continue to support the Asian Tour.

“I would love to play in Europe,” he said. “Asia has been fantastic for me the last year and a half and a great stepping stone for me coming back into the game so I would love to support them as well. Hopefully I can play a bit of both.”

For Kiyota, there was obvious disappointment with his two over par back nine for a final round of 71, and he confessed his lost his rhythm the moment he started to think he could win. A bogey followed and the momentum was gone.

“As the score shows the front nine was great but on the back nine I started to think of victory and lost my pace,” he said. “I started thinking I could win on the 12th and made bogey and that just knocked me off my pace. But Mark Brown played great golf over the back nine and I feel he definitely won it.”

Strange also leapt into contention with a hat-trick of birdies on the back nine to move into a three-way tie for the lead before Brown edged one ahead with his birdie on the 16th. Playing the last, Strange felt he needed to birdie but he pushed his drive into the fairway bunker and found a terrible lie under the lip. His recovery hit a tree and third overshot the green. His chance was gone and a chip and two putts later he signed for a 71 and 15 under par total.

“It was a disappointing finish but I would have taken it at the start of the week,” he said. “I played well, the best I have played this year and I am looking forward to the rest of the year now.”

Chalmers was always chasing and never in touch with the leaders as he struggled with his driving. Instead it was his putting which paved the way for a four under par 68 to complete the trio on 15 under par 273.

Despite missing out on the main prize, he was full of praise for Brown. “It is amazing. Just to win once is great, but to win twice in a row is a fantastic achievement. I have won myself and it takes so much out of you to win and he is obviously riding a very nice wave at the moment.”

Shiv Kapur finished the week as the leading Indian after a round of 68 left him in a share of fifth place on 14 under par alongside Sweden’s Johan Edfors, who shot a best of the day 65, and England’s Graeme Storm (69).

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