Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat survived a tension-packed finish to win the Maybank Malaysian Open by one shot over Italy’s Edoardo Molinari in a weather-disrupted third and final round at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club.
The burly Thai sat out a two-hour and ten minute weather delay from 1.05pm and returned to birdie the par four 16th hole after a sublime approach to five feet of the flag. He nailed the putt to move two shots clear and made a gutsy par save at the 17th after his approach almost went into the creek beyond the green. From within the hazard mark, Kiradech chipped to 15 feet and made the putt to maintain his two-shot cushion with one hole to go.
At the par five closing hole, Kiradech hit an iron off the tee but found the rough and then hit into a fairway bunker. But the gutsy 24-year-old managed to find the green in four and got the bogey he needed for the title with a two-putt from around 15 feet, finishing on 13-under-par 203 (65, 68, 70). Weather delays had forced officials to shorten the US$2.75 million event to 54 holes.
“I feel excited, so happy this week and so proud of myself and my family. I almost won here two years ago and finally this year I made it and I’m so happy,” said Kiradech, who struggled with fatigue all week due to a thyroid problem.
“After the birdie on 16, I thought I had a good chance to win – but in golf, when you’re not finished, you cannot say that you can win. The second shot on 17, I was lucky that my ball was still safe. If it had rolled into the hazard, maybe it would have been tough to win. But anyway I concentrated and told myself to make six or better on 18. But it was so tough – I’ve played the 18th hole 20 times and I think I’ve birdied it more than 10 times – but making bogey today was so tough for me!”
While the win gave Kiradech a two-year exemption on the European Tour, he noted that he will continue to play in Asia. “I’ll try and play as much as I can on the European Tour but for sure I’ll keep my Asian Tour card. Right now I’m 24 and I have 20 more years to play and I’ll try to win as much as I can and travel around the world to play,” he said.
The winner’s cheque of US$458,330 catapulted Kiradech to the top of the Asian Tour Order of Merit with US$594,230 after three events.
Molinari, for whom this was a first made cut since returning from a lengthy wrist injury, had every reason to be pleased with his closing 67.
“It’s mixed emotions because I’m very happy to have a good week for the first time in a long time,” he said. “The swing changes are starting to pay off which is surprising because I thought it would take a lot longer.
“I’m disappointed because I had a lot of chances on the back nine. The 18th is only the second fairway I missed all day which is very disappointing. I felt if I birdied the last I might have won outright because it puts a lot of pressure on the guy coming up behind.”
Denmark’s Anders Hansen finished third after a joint best-of-the-day 66, with 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa and France’s Victor Dubuisson a shot further back in fourth.
Meanwhile, amateur Gavin Kyle Green raked up an impressive joint 22nd finish on six-under-par after closing with a 69. The big-hitting 19-year-old finished as the best Malaysian ahead of Danny Chia (51st on one-under-par) and S. Murthy (65th on one-over-par), the only other two local players to make the cut.
Results (Top 10 and ties)
203 – Kiradech APHIBARNRAT 65-68-70
204 – Edoardo MOLINARI 66-71-67
205 – Anders HANSEN 66-73-66
206 – Charl SCHWARTZEL 67-68-71, Victor DUBUISSON 67-69-70
207 – Pablo LARRAZABAL 69-70-68, Padraig HARRINGTON 69-68-70, Mark FOSTER 69-69-69, Alexander NOREN 69-68-70, David HOWELL 69-68-70