Joost Luiten (Getty Images)
`Dutchman Joost Luiten claimed a maiden European Tour title with a one shot victory from Daniel Chopra at the Iskandar Johor Open.
Trailing overnight leader Chopra by four shots at the start of the day, Luiten compiled a six under par 65 to fend off the Swede with a winning score of 15 under par.
After the tournament had been reduced to 54 holes due to three days of storm interruptions at Horizon Hills Golf and Country Club, Chopra could only produce a final round of 70 and needed a birdie at the last to ensure he finished alone in second on 14 under.
Padraig Harrington, James Morrison and Rhys Davies ended in a tie for third on 13 under. Harrington and Morrison both signed for closing 69s while Davies carded an impressive 65 to climb the leaderboard.
“I don’t believe it yet,” said Luiten. “I think when you’re in position to win you always have some nerves, but I think that’s normal.
“My caddie [Martin Gray] said to me when we had four holes left to play, ‘the only guy you’re going to lose to is yourself’, and I think he was right. I just had to play my game and let the other guys chase me. If they do chase me, well done, we come back. But it was good enough so I’m really happy.”
After a stunning 63 gave him the first round lead, the 25 year old had slipped down the leaderboard with a second round 70.
But it could have been worse – and three closing birdies at least gave him a platform to launch a challenge.
And he took full advantage with a brilliant bogey-free effort, with five of his birdies on the front nine.
“I played really well in the first round, and then I started off pretty well and was one up after six holes. But then the delay came in, and I had a really, really terrible start on the third day,” added Luiten. “I started off with a bogey, and then a double, and I was suddenly three over for the round.
“But I tried to fight back on the back nine with five birdies, and got myself right in there. And today I think I had a dream start. I made some really nice par putts, I had the pace with the greens and just left a few birdie putts short, but I managed to roll in the par putts when I had to, which was really important for my momentum. “
Luiten’s first victory comes on the back of some impressive form – he had been in the top 15 in eight of his last 14 European Tour events.
It also puts to bed the wrist injury which plagued him throughout the start of his career, and takes him to just outside the top 15 that will split the $7,500,000 bonus pool in The Race to Dubai.
“I have been close a few times this year, and to finally win one and get close to the top 15 is unbelievable. And hopefully I can play well in Dubai and push along a little bit,” he added.
The 37 year old Chopra saw his hopes fade with a double bogey at the seventh, but the Swede was still pleased with his week’s work.
“I’m learning to stay patient, which is good,” said Chopra, whose wait for a maiden European Tour title goes on.
“My putting was fantastic. I’m happy with being able to manage my game, even though I didn’t have much control in my long game. I was able to play and work around that with my experience.
“It is a great way to finish the year. It has been a long hard working year, and it is nice to have this good finish at the end of the year. It gives you some encouragement for the next year.”
Davies collected six birdies in his strong closing effort to join Harrington and Morrison on 13 under par.
"I played well. I was really happy with that. I hadn't had a great deal of form of late, but felt my game was coming along all the time," he said.
"I actually hit the ball really well today, hit just about every shot where I was looking, and that's super encouraging. I holed some good putts as well. I feel like I'm rolling the putter a lot better, and my ball-striking was really on, so that's nice."
Harrington, winner last year when the event was on the Asian Tour, reached the turn two under after birdies on the eighth and ninth.
However, consecutive bogeys at the 11th and 12th halted his progress and, although he picked up two more shots at the next two holes, he ultimately fell short.
Morrison built on his eighth place at the Barclays Singapore Open with another strong finish as three birdies and a bogey secured a tie for third, and cements his place in the top 60 ahead of the Dubai World Championship.
Frenchman Gregory Bourdy was sixth on 12 under following a 70 and Dane Søren Kjeldsen ended a shot further back in seventh after a 67.
Harrington was content with his week's work, if not the final result.
"I was happy with a lot of things this week," said the Irishman.
"I'm happy with my form, I'm happy with the way I'm playing, and most of all I'm happy with where my head was at. I'm just a little disappointed with the finished result, but you can't win them all.
"When you get that close, put yourself in contention, you want to pull it off.
"But it's not always possible, and Joost obviously played very well today. At least it gives me a lot of confidence for the last couple of events."