European Tour: What We Learned at the Shenzhen International
Kiradech Aphibarnrat secured his second European Tour title with a thrilling playoff victory over Li Hao-Tong at the inaugural Shenzhen International in China.
The Thai player eagled the 17th hole at Genzon Golf Club to tie the 19-year-old home hope and narrowly missed a birdie putt on the 72nd after a brilliant approach from the fairway bunker.
Minutes before, England’s Tommy Fleetwood almost holed a double-breaking 60-footer to join the Asian duo in the playoff.
In truth, extra holes always looked odds-on during a final round in which 24 players were covered by just three shots at one point.
The playoff started on the 18th hole, where it would also finish.
Both players found the green of the par-4 in regulation, but Li rushed his 40-foot effort some six feet past the cup.
It didn’t matter, though, as Aphibarnrat calmly rolled in his 12-footer before punching the air with vigour.
There was a seven-way tie for third, which included Englishmen David Howell and Tom Lewis and American Peter Uihlein, the 36-hole leader.
“I have been struggling for a year,” said Aphibarnrat, whose coach died in December 2013.
“I had a chance to win in 72 holes but the putt in the playoff is the best putt I have ever made in my life.”
Four things we learned at the Shenzhen International:
1. Kiradech Aphibarnrat made his way into the world’s top 100 with a victory at the 2013 Maybank Malaysian Open, but he struggled with both on- and off-course factors last year. In fact, he dropped 70 places in the Official World Golf Ranking between November 2013 and February 2015. But he showed some positive signs at that month’s True Thailand Classic, which acted as the precursor to his most significant and lucrative European Tour performance to date. He’s now back inside the world’s top 100 and one more big finish away from breaching the top 50 for the first time.
2. Peter Uihlein also looks to be coming back to some form after a pretty disappointing 18 months. The former US Amateur Champion enjoyed a breakout year in 2013, which included his first European Tour victory (Madeira Islands Open) and two other top-two finishes. He looked set to push on the following season, but his career stagnated somewhat. In 2014, he only recorded two top-10s and failed to qualify for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, an event open to the top 60 on the Race to Dubai. He’s not quite back to his best, but his tie for 4th in China was his best European Tour finish since October 2013.
3. Elsewhere, there were some encouraging finishes for a number of players who’ve been struggling of late. Big-hitting Alvaro Quiros, winner of the DP World Tour Championship in 2012, recorded a tie for 15th; Tom Lewis – a player who seemed destined for stardom after winning the 2011 Portugal Masters in his first professional start – tied for 4th, his best finish since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October 2013. YE Yang, the 2009 US PGA Championship victor, also tied for 4th for his best European Tour result since the 2011 US Open.
4. There were some great signs from the home contingent in Genzon as China bids to become a golfing powerhouse. Some 50 players from the Asian nation took part, with a number performing admirably. Huang Wen-yi finished just two shots behind Aphibarnrat, while Li Hao-Tong, a precocious 19-year-old, announced himself as a star of the future despite his unfortunate playoff loss.