Honma Hong Kong Open

It’s Ryder Cup star versus the unknown journeyman at Hong Kong Open as Cabrera Bello and Brazel face off in final round

Spanish star hoping his experience tells in battle against little-known Aussie playing the best golf of his life

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 December, 2016, 6:12pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 December, 2016, 12:07am

The UBS Hong Kong Open could come down to a battle of nerves on Sunday as Spanish Ryder Cup star Rafa Cabrera Bello – without a win since 2012 – and the little-known Aussie journeyman Sam Brazel – without a notable win ever – duel at Fanling.

The two tee off in the final group locked on 11 under par after rounds almost as contrasting as their careers.

The Spaniard – twice a winner on the European Tour with career earnings of some EUR8 million – had seemed unshakeable in his first two rounds, hitting every green but one of his first 36 in regulation and dropping a single shot.

But the three-shot overnight leader couldn’t hit a fairway on Saturday, handing in a card he said had “all colours of the rainbow” on it – six birdies, four bogies and a double bogey.

“I don’t know [what happened],” said the 32-year-old. “I swing the same obviously. Swings don’t change from one day to another. Just golf is a weird sport. Sometimes things happen that they just affect your rhythm or your confidence a tiny bit, and you end up struggling.

Watch: Roundup of Day Three at the 2016 UBS Hong Kong Open

“That’s golf. I mean, sometimes it looks very easy and sometimes it looks very tough. Today it looked a bit tougher.”

Brazel – with career earnings barely five per cent of his rival’s total – was shaking on the first tee, having never been in such a position at a tournament of this magnitude before.

The 37-year-old, 480 in the world to Cabrera Bello’s 33, has only really started to make something of an impact in the sport in the last three years – and even then his name is little-known outside his hometown of Tamworth in New South Wales.

After a wild drive and a bogey on the first, he settled down to notch four birdies for a 67.

“I started a little nervous on the first but I guess that’s the situation you’re in,” he said. “We all get a bit nervous. It’s good to have nerves I think. I think it was pretty much over after the first hole.”

They start favourites but there’s plenty within touch among the chasing pack who will fancy putting them under pressure on Sunday.

England’s Tommy Fleetwood tussled for the lead before bogeying the last to finish with a 67, two shots back in third on -9. David Lipsky of the US is one further back after a 66, with Justin Walters (South Africa, 69), Andrew Dodt (Australia, 67) and David Howell (England, a course-record equalling 63) on -7.

And with the conditions looking perfect for scoring again on Sunday, even the next 11 players on -6 and -5 might not be counting themselves out.

But Cabrera Bello and Brazel will know exactly what they need to do in the last group of the day, and the Spaniard reckons his experience might tell in any mental battle.

“I’m not nervous,” he said. “I’ve been joint leader, I’ve been leading by myself many times, and I’m looking forward for that third win. It’s a very common position for me. I’m just confident.

“I’m feeling very confident. So if I can start tomorrow good again and find the calmness that I had the first two days and feel as calm and relaxed as I was on the course, just in control of my game, I think I will be in a very good position.”

Cabrera Bello said he was looking for the “serenity” he had in rounds one and two, while Brazel is just out to enjoy an entirely new experience. His biggest wins hitherto have been on the Queensland Sunshine Tour, where you imagine the galleries might consist of one man and a ’roo.

“It was fun out of there,” said Brazel, who suffers from osteitis pubis, a painful inflammatory condition of the pelvis and said he went to “no man’s land” for a time after the shock death of his partner from meningitis in 2009.

“It’s nice to be putting it together on the back nine on a Saturday,” he added. “[I’ll treat it] same as every other day. Just one shot at a time and try and enjoy the moment. Yeah, just plug away.

“It would mean the world [to win]. But once again, there’s 18 holes to go and I’m just going to approach it one shot at a time and try and enjoy the moment. Just learn from the experience I guess.”