European Tour

Rai holds off Fitzpatrick to claim Hong Kong Open

Aaron Rai (Getty)
Aaron Rai (Getty)

Hong Kong - England's Aaron Rai held off a determined charge from compatriot Matthew Fitzpatrick to win the Hong Kong Open by one stroke on Sunday, claiming his first win on the European Tour at a rain-sodden Fanling.

Having begun the final day six strokes clear, Rai carded 69 at the par-70 course -- his worst round of the tournament -- but Fitzpatrick's 64 was not quite enough to chase down the 23-year-old.

"It feels incredible," to lift the trophy -- previously won by golf greats Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Peter Thomson -- said Rai, who first tasted golf celebrity aged five, when he won his first tournament and was featured on BBC TV, swiping drives and holing putts.

"It will take a few days to sink in."

The Wolverhampton native, who has worn two golf gloves on the same hand since he was eight years old and says he cannot play without them, was competing at Fanling for only the second time after failing to make the cut last year.

World number nine Tommy Fleetwood had also started the day six strokes adrift of Rai, with each player in the all-English top three chasing a first win at Fanling.

In heavy rain, Fleetwood dropped away after bogeying the eighth and double bogeying the ninth, going on to card a three over par 73 and finish tied for 14th.

And after Rai missed a simple putt to bogey the eighth and Fitzpatrick walked away with a birdie form the same hole, it looked as if Rai would succumb to the pressure from his more experienced competitor.

But with the difference between the two at just one stroke, it was Fitpatrick's turn to falter and pick up his first bogey of the day at the 17th, after a simple putt curled around the lip and away from the hole.

Rai held his nerve coming down onto the final green, taking two shots to putt and secure victory at the $2-million purse tournament.

He carded a 17 under par total of 263 over the four days.

- Course record smashed -

"Obviously it was disappointing on the 17th there, such a simple bogey," Fitzpatrick said.

"But I gave it a good go. It was always going to be tough to beat him.

"The last two days he's been very solid and not given anything away, which made my life more difficult."

Fitzpatrick's own blistering eight under-par 62 in the second round would have beaten the previous course record had Rai not smashed it with his own 61 the same day.

Jason Scrivener of Australia made a late surge, carding 68 to end tied for third with France's Victor Perez, equalling his best performance at the Hong Kong Open.

Crowd favourite Sergio Garcia carded 70 on the final day to finish tied for fifth, with the all time Ryder Cup points leader admitting earlier in the tournament he was "looking forward to resting" after a hectic year.

Masters champion Patrick Reed shot a one under par 69 on the final day to finish tied for 45th, the American never really getting back on track after going five-over in the first round.

Rai's road to membership on the European Tour began only last year, with a Challenge Tour victory at the Barclays Kenya Open on Mothering Sunday -- in front of his Kenya-born mother, who had returned to the country for the first time in 47 years to see her son play.

Leading final-round scores at the Honma Hong Kong Open at Fanling on Sunday (par 70):

263 - Aaron Rai (ENG) 65-61-68-69

264 - Matthew Fitzpatrick (ENG) 70-62-68-64

269 - Jason Scrivener (AUS) 65-69-67-68, Victor Perez (FRA) 71-65-66-67

270 - David Drysdale (SCO) 68-69-67-66

271 - Rafa Cabrera Bello (ESP) 72-69-67-63, Shubhankar Sharma (IND) 69-68-67-67, Sergio Garcia (ESP) 70-67-64-70

272 - Matthias Schwab (AUS) 69-69-66-68, Scott Hend (AUS) 68-66-69-69, Jake Higginbottom (AUS) 69-65-69-69, Kim Koivu (FIN) 69-67-69-67, Micah Lauren Shin (USA) 66-67-72-67

273 - Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 69-65-66-73, Ashley Chesters (ENG) 68-67-71-67, Nicolas Colsaerts (BEL) 68-68-72-65, Justin Harding (RSA) 69-69-67-68, Thongchai Jaidee (THA) 68-68-66-71

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