BRIAN Watts withstood a blistering back-nine charge from Taiwan's Chen Tse-chung to win the US$250,000 Hongkong Open at Fanling yesterday and continue America's recent domination of the opening leg of the Asian Tour. The 26-year-old's final round of three-over-par 74 in testing, windy conditions gave him a 72-hole aggregate of 274. That was one shot ahead of Chen, who closed with a day's best 67 but was left to rue costly three-putt bogeys on the final two holes, and two clear of Northern Ireland's David Feherty in third place. Having watched his Taiwanese rival, who was playing ahead of him, come unstuck on the 17th and 18th greens, Watts was able to afford the luxury of also finishing with two fives. ''It was a real gut wrencher today,'' said a relieved Watts, whose reward for leading the Kent-sponsored tournament from start to finish was a cheque for US$41,650 - the biggest pay-day of his career. But it was anything but a Sunday stroll for Watts, who had lit up the tournament with a sparkling opening-day 63. ''I was feeling uneasy the whole back nine. Several players started making moves and I heard the roars as TC made his birdies. ''But I held it together and did not choke. Winning here is certainly my greatest moment as a professional. To win a tournament which Tom Watson, Ken Green and Bernhard Langer have won and to have my name on the same trophy as those guys is just wonderful,'' said Watts, the fourth American to win the Open in the past five years, following Brian Claar (1989), Green (1990) and Watson last year. Joint runner-up to Green at Fanling in 1990, Watts went into yesterday's final round with a three-shot cushion over Canadian Ray Stewart. The only others seemingly still in contention were 1985 Hongkong champion Mark Aebli and Remi Bouchard of Canada. Eight and nine shots back respectively, Chen and Feherty appeared to have left themselves too much ground to make up. And there was little that happened on the front nine to suggest anything other than a runaway victory for Watts. Showing no signs of nerves, Watts came out all guns blazing. Attacking the flag he missed from six feet for birdie at the first but holed from 12 feet for a two at the short second and lipped out with his eagle effort at the par-five third after a breathtaking three-wood approach of 240 yards into the wind. When he tapped in for his birdie four he was no fewer than seven shots clear of the field. Playing partner Stewart had a wretched day. He dropped strokes at each of the opening three holes and was never a factor, closing with a 77 which left him joint eighth. Ahead, the other main challengers were faring no better. Bouchard had bogeys at three of the first four holes while Aebli saw his hopes of a second Hongkong title evaporate with bogeys at the third, fourth and fifth. Both finished with 76s. However, dramatically and unexpectedly, the tournament came alive as further along the course Chen and Feherty began to stir. One over after eight, Feherty found his range with birdies at the ninth, 10th, 12th and 13th to go to eight under. The birdies then dried up and he ended with a 68. Chen's challenge was gaining even more momentum as he hit a hot streak which saw him record five birdies in a seven-hole stretch starting at the ninth. Watts, meanwhile, was starting to feel the strain. He missed the greens at the fifth and sixth to return to even-par at the turn. He parred the first four on the back nine but dropped a stroke at the 14th. At the same time, Chen was making his 15-foot birdie putt at the par-three 15th. That two-shot swing meant Watts was just one ahead. Sensing a sensational victory, Chen continued to attack. His 25-foot birdie attempt at the 16th to draw level rattled the jaws of the cup but, to the disappointment of the galleries, failed to drop. The groans grew even louder at the 17th when Chen overhit his approach and three-putted from the back of the green. ''I saw what he did and followed suit,'' said Watts, who nevertheless maintained his one-stroke buffer going to the last. After a poor drive at the 18th Chen put his second on the green 60 feet from the flag. With Watts watching anxiously from the brow of a hill, Chen left his first putt 10 feet short and missed. ''If Chen had made par I was going to go for a big slice around the trees. It was fortunate for me he three-putted,'' said Watts, who had pushed his drive at the 18th way right of the fairway bunker from where his view of the green was severely obstructed. Instead, Watts was able to chip down short of the water in the knowledge that a bogey-five would be sufficient. He coolly flipped a wedge on to the green with his third. His 25-foot downhill putt rolled gloriously within six inches of the cup. The tap-in was a formality.