'I supported this tour for a long time and it's a dream come true for me . . . I really didn't think I would win this'
China's Zhang Lianwei hit the jackpot at the US$250,000 Macau Open yesterday with the biggest win of his fledgling career.
A steady closing round three-under-par 68 gave him a nerve-shredding one-stroke win over Scotland's Simon Yates and the Chinese number one admitted: 'I've waited five long years for this.'
Zhang took off his cap and waved to a 1,000-plus crowd - many of whom had followed his every move - after sinking an 18-inch putt for par on the par-five 18th. But the next 20 minutes were excruciating for the 36-year-old Shenzhen-based golfer who had to wait until Yates - the only player who could catch him - completed his round for victory to be confirmed.
Yates finished strongly and birdied the final hole for a closing 70 but it was not enough to prevent Zhang from becoming the second Chinese to win on the Davidoff Tour after Cheng Jun won the 1997 Volvo China Open in Beijing. Zhang triumphed at the 1996 Volvo Asian Matchplay Championship in Malaysia, but yesterday's victory was his first in strokeplay on the Davidoff Tour.
Taiwan's Yeh Wei-tze finished a further shot behind after a 72 while Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and Lin Chie-hsiang of Taiwan were tied for fourth place, finishing seven-under for the tournament with a pair of 69s. American John Daly shared sixth place with Pakistan's Taimur Hussain after finishing six-under for the tournament with a 69 and 70 respectively.
Zhang was naturally delighted with his win - worth US$40,375 - and he rated it above his epic victory at the Ontario Open Heritage Classic in Canada last year.
'I supported this tour for a long time and it's just a dream come true for me,' said Zhang, who returned to the clubhouse amid well-wishers and fellow players who congratulated him.
'I have been a pro golfer for six years and I really didn't think I would win this, especially after missing the cut in Korea [the Maekyung LG Fashion Open in Seoul] last week. Even after I led after the second round, I still wasn't sure whether I would do it, but my confidence grew and I was lucky. It's a great result for me.
'Sure, it was great to win in Canada as well, but this is Macau and it's near my home. It's nice to win here after coming fifth or sixth in my previous best finishes here.'
A pro-Zhang crowd had followed him on Saturday, causing him to lose his concentration, but his army of fans were more subdued yesterday and Zhang was thankful for that. 'The crowds . . . they were great. I have to thank them for their support. Everybody said hello to me and wished me well. I felt so grateful for that.'
Zhang, who started the day one stroke behind leaders Yates, Yeh and South Korea's Anthony Kang, got off to a great start when he eagled the second, holing from about 15 feet.
'I was very lucky. It was just like yesterday [on Saturday]. I putted from about four metres yesterday and four metres today. Even after I bogeyed the 13th hole I still thought I had a chance to win it when I saw I was still leading on the board. I just stayed calm and continued.'
Yates was disappointed he could not force a playoff after requiring an eagle on the 18th, but he was happy with the US$27,825 second prize.
'The wind got up on the second and third holes and it made putting very difficult. I couldn't get anything right. I found it really hard to pick the right clubs. The wind made it very difficult. I dropped a shot on the 13th which was quite crucial,' he said.
'I knew I needed an eagle on the last hole, but the wind was virtually in my face and I knew I wasn't going to make it. Anyway, it's nice to get second place. At least there's no tax in Macau. That's very generous! Overall, I am happy with second place. It puts me up the Order of Merit list again.'
Yeh said he was disappointed he wasn't able to make better inroads into Zhang's lead. 'I'm very disappointed because I tried so hard. I made two mistakes on the 14th and 15th with bogeys. I had no luck today, but I am very happy for Zhang. He deserved to win,' said Yeh.
Meanwhile, English star Lee Westwood struggled again, finishing 43rd after a 73 put him five-over for the tournament. Westwood said: 'It was really hot out there. I didn't play particularly well. I didn't hole many putts, but I am happy to finish it.'