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Aaron Rai

Rai joins famous names with Hong Kong Open victory

The Englishman joined a list including Watson, Woosnam and McIlroy after holding off a charging Matt Fitzpatrick to claim his maiden European Tour title
 

What happened at the Hong Kong Open?

Aaron Rai added his name to an illustrious list of winners as he claimed his maiden European Tour victory at the 60th Hong Kong Open.

The 23-year-old Englishman kept a surging Matt Fitzpatrick at bay for a one-shot victory in the pouring rain at the Hong Kong Golf Club.

And, in doing so, he added his name to a trophy that contains those of Tom Watson, Ian Woosnam, Colin Montgomerie and Rory McIlroy – to name just four.

Helped by a course record 61 in the second round, Rai began the final 18 holes with a six shot lead.

He soon found himself under huge pressure as Fitzpatrick birdied the first two and then a further five as they came to the penultimate hole.

Rai had steadied himself with back-to-back birdies at the 12th and 13th, following bogeys at six and eight, but was clinging on to a one-shot advantage.

Aaron Rai

Fitzpatrick, who would shoot a 64, then bogeyed the 17th and it gave the Wolverhampton player a two shot cushion down the difficult final hole.

After finding the green with his approach, Rai used all of the three puts he had in hand to sign for a 69 and a 17-under-par total as he won in only his 46th appearance on the European Tour.

Rai said: “It’s incredible. It definitely hasn’t sunk in just yet. I’ll probably need a few days for that to happen. It’s incredible to win on any Tour, let alone the European Tour and let alone the Hong Kong Open.

“It’s an incredible course, incredible event and very well supported. The crowds have been amazing. I’m just very grateful.

“Matt played incredibly all day. It was tough but again, I really just tried to play the course as much as possible, rather than Matt, or anyone else who was playing well today.”

Final Hong Kong Open leaderboard 

Talking point

After seven months on the sidelines because of a perforated eardrum, Victor Dubuisson returned to action citing a newfound enthusiasm for the game.

The enigmatic Frenchman said the break had “given me some perspective and the chance of a new attitude towards golf”. He’s also given up wine and returned to the gym after implementing a few lifestyle changes.

Not unexpectedly given so many months without competitive action, Dubuisson missed the cut after rounds of 73 and 70.

But with a busy season planned for 2019, it’s likely he’ll next appear in the Middle East in the New Year.

No one doubts his ability and it would be fantastic to see the 28-year-old return to the sort of form that brought two European Tour titles and saw him become such a star of Europe’s winning Ryder Cup team in Gleneagles in 2014. Watch this space.

Round four highlights

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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