HONG KONG (Reuters) - Australian journeyman Sam Brazel prevailed in a tense final hole shoot-out with runnerup Rafa Cabrera Bello to win the Hong Kong Open by a stroke and capture his first European Tour title on Sunday.
The 480th-ranked Brazel struck a sublime approach shot from 175 yards to within eight feet of the flag and calmly rolled in the winning birdie after his Spanish rival missed a longer putt by inches on a glorious afternoon at Fanling.
Doused with champagne and mobbed by his caddy and friends, Brazel’s victory in the co-sanctioned event earned the 37-year-old 311,844 euros ($329,000) and a two-year exemption on the Tour.
“It’s been a long time coming but yeah, stoked,” said an overwhelmed Brazel, cradling the trophy after shooting a two-under 68 to finish with a 13-under total of 267.
“I’d love to come over to Europe, it’d be a great privilege.”
Fellow Australian Andrew Dodt finished third on 11-under with Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, while U.S. Masters champion Danny Willett shot a 66 to finish sixth.
Joint overnight leader with Cabrera Bello, Brazel fell off the pace with bogeys on the sixth and ninth holes but played flawlessly on the back nine.
He drained three successive birdies from the 11th to roar back into contention and jostled with a group of five at the top of a crowded leaderboard over the closing holes.
Cabrera Bello’s hopes of a first European title in four years appeared bleak early after he dropped three strokes on the seventh and eighth holes.
But he dug deep with birdies on the 16th and 17th holes to reel in Brazel on the last.
Dodt also grabbed a share of the lead with a birdie on the par-four 17th but rued a wayward tee shot on the last that left him with a long par putt he was unable to save.
Despite never finishing higher than fourth on the Asian Tour, the bulky Brazel was a model of composure as he upstaged a host of marquee names and saved his best golf for last.
“It wouldn’t say I got it out of the middle but I‘m pretty stoked where it finished, I tell you,” said Brazel of his stunning six-iron approach on the 18th.
Former U.S. Open champion Justin Rose shot 69 to finish joint 36th on two-under, while fellow Englishman Ian Poulter capped a forgettable week with a 74 that left him five-over for the tournament.
($1 = 0.9471 euros)
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty