Smokin! Aphibarnrat holds nerve to win Malaysian Open after thunderstorm delay
Phil Casey, Press Association
08:28 GMT, 24 March 2013
14:01 GMT, 24 March 2013
Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat today held his nerve after an untimely weather delay to claim his first European Tour title with a wire-to-wire victory in the Maybank Malaysian Open.
The tournament had been reduced to 54 holes following thunderstorms on each of the first three days, and another arrived just after the final group had teed off on the 16th hole today.
That meant a two-hour delay with Aphibarnrat one shot ahead of Italy's Edoardo Molinari, who had completed his 67 just before the delay and was safely in the clubhouse.
Smokin: Kiradech Aphibarnrat takes a puff on a cigarette on his way to victory
Hands on: Kiradech Aphibarnrat poses with the trophy after winning the Malaysian Open
But Aphibarnrat made light of the disruption, hitting his approach to the 16th to three feet for birdie and then saving par on the next after almost finding water over the back of the green.
The 23-year-old former junior world champion therefore had the luxury of taking six on the 634-yard par-five 18th to complete a closing 70, sealing a a one-shot win over Molinari and claiming the first prize of 303,000.
Denmark's Anders Hansen (66) was third on 11 under, with France's Victor Dubuisson (70) and South African Charl Schwartzel (71) joint fourth a shot further back.
'This means a lot to me,' Aphibarnrat said. 'I had been struggling a lot after getting sick with my thyroid, but I fought and worked hard with my dad and my coach to have today.
'I have to thank my family, my mum and dad have always supported me and I am sure they are in front of the TV watching.'
Realisation: Aphibarnrat won his first European Tour title in Malaysia
The leaders started the day on the third hole and Aphibarnrat pitched to three feet for a birdie before holing from 15ft for an eagle on the par-five fifth.
At that stage his nearest challenger was Ireland's Padraig Harrington, who had eagled the same hole and also picked up three birdies, but the three-time major winner carded three bogeys in succession on the back nine to fade to sixth.
Bogeys at the seventh and 12th then saw Aphibarnrat joined at the top of the leaderboard by China's Wu Ashun, but as Wu also faded – shanking a pitch on the 16th into the crowd – Aphibarnrat birdied the 14th to edge ahead of Molinari, who was by now in the clubhouse.
The thunderstorm which arrived soon after looked to have come at a bad time for Aphibarnrat, but he added: 'I think it was good for me, I have time to rest and there were a lot of things going through my head. After I birdied the 16th I thought I had a good chance to win.
'The 18th hole I've played 10 times before, but today it was the toughest hole I have ever played, even though I could make six to win.'
Missing out: Edoardo Molinari had to settle for second place
Molinari was left to rue a number of missed chances, despite having previously missed the cut in all five of his appearances this season.
'It's mixed emotions because I'm very happy to have a good week for the first time in a long time,' said the former Ryder Cup player, who changed coach in December after missing three months following wrist surgery.
'The swing changes (under Sean Foley, who also coaches Tiger Woods and Justin Rose) are starting to pay off which is surprising because I thought it would take a lot longer, but 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, but unfortunately I think I'll be one or two short.'