HONG KONG: Unheralded Australian Sam Brazel wept Sunday after clinching the Hong Kong Open in thrilling style with a birdie at the final hole, sealing by far the biggest victory of his career.
The world number 480 defeated Spanish Ryder Cup star Rafa Cabrera Bello — ranked 447 places above him — on the 18th after Brazel agonisingly missed a birdie on the 17th.
Brazel, 37, whose partner died suddenly from bacterial meningitis in 2009, cried as he dedicated the improbable victory to his family, saying: “This is for you guys.”
Asked if he had a message for his loved ones, his voice again cracked as he added: “I’d just say thanks for the support over many years.
“It’s been a bit of a tough ride.”
Brazel had never won a four-round tournament before Sunday, and until he gained his Asian Tour card in 2013 was grinding out results on lower-level circuits such as the Queensland Sunshine Tour in Australia.
He admitted he was still in shock from his giant-killing total of 267, which also saw off a challenge from US Masters champion Danny Willett, who had held the lead at one point but ended in sixth place on 271.
“I certainly didn’t expect to be in here this afternoon but I’m thoroughly impressed that I am!” he said as he faced the media.
“I was supposed to be taking a 9.30 flight back to Australia tonight but I don’t think I’ll be making that!”
He had earlier said winning the $2 million Hong Kong Open would “mean the world” to him — and his fellow Australian golfers including Scott Hend mobbed him on the final green to douse him in champagne.
Hend, the Asian Tour Order of Merit winner, called the victory “life-changing” for Brazel, adding: “You beauty!”
Cabrera Bello, who has not won on the European Tour since the 2012 Dubai Desert Classic, had to settle for second place, finishing with a round of 268.
Australia’s Andrew Dodt and England’s Tommy Fleetwood were tied third on 11 under par at 269.
The first prize cheque of $333,330 more than trebled Brazel’s earnings for the season on the Asian Tour, and until Sunday the highlight of his career was fourth place at the World Classic Championship in Singapore last year.
Brazel had been tied at 12 under par with Cabrera Bello going into the last hole, but a stunning second shot from the fairway saw the Australian within 15 feet of the flag.
The Spaniard was also on to the green in two shots but could not make the putt, while Brazel sunk his to thunderous cheers.
Brazel said he had been a “nervous wreck” on the back nine as a host of players jockeyed for the leadership.
But his nerves did not appear to affect his play, with three consecutive birdies on holes 11, 12 and 13, seeing him move into the lead — and a remarkable tee shot on the par-three 12th which rolled to within a foot of the hole was possibly the pick of the bunch.
Elsewhere, defending champion Justin Rose, who was struggling with a bad back, was never in contention and ended the week with at two under par 278.
And US Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed, who came third last year, admitted he had had a “rough” time, ending at just one under par on 279.