INDIA'S Anirban Lahiri did the unthinkable and claimed the sweetest victory of his career when he lifted the Maybank Malaysian Open title by one-stroke over Bernd Wiesberger of Austria at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club yesterday.
The 27-year-old Lahiri, who trailed by five strokes heading into the final round, closed with a four-under-par 68 for a 16-under 272 total and claimed the Seagram Trophy which came with a champion’s cheque of US$500,000.
The feat was made possible after the Indian went on a birdy binge in the Third Round by snaring 10 in flawless play.
Wiesberger, with three top-six finishes in his last three starts, started strongly with two opening birdies but a double bogey on five took away his momentum and further bogeys on 12, 15 and 17 meant that he needed to birdie the last hole to force a play-off with Lahiri.
However, the 29-year-old Austrian, who was seeking a fourth career victory, left his birdie attempt from 25 feet short of the hole. His 15-under 273 saw him settle for second best and he pocketed US$333,330.
Englishman Paul Waring (US$168,900) and Spaniard Alejandro Canizares (US$168,900) shared third place on 275 after closing with a 73 and 74 respectively while title holder Lee Westwood of England, who was chasing a record-tying third victory in the Maybank Malaysian Open, failed to challenge as he signed off with a disappointing 75 for tied fifth place (US$99,300) with Asian Tour regulars Richard T. Lee of Canada (71) and American Paul Peterson (72).
Anirban's sixth career Asian Tour victory and first co-sanctioned title on the European Tour is likely to propel him into the world’s top-40, putting him in prime position to qualify for the Masters Tournament in April, the year’s first Major, and also the International Team for the Presidents Cup later this year.
Coming off his career best year where he won twice last year and finished second on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit, the tenacious Lahiri fought gallantly to reel in overnight leader Wiesberger and then holed an audacious 50-foot birdie putt from off the 17th green which ultimately proved decisive.
“I don’t think it has sunk in just yet but I’m pretty sure when it does, I’ll be pretty happy. This win is very, very special as it’s my first on the European Tour. I think I’ve got a bad habit to make it hard for myself. I’m happy I managed to get it over the line towards as ugly as it was towards the end,” said Anirban.
“I knew Bernd got off to a hot start. I didn’t know how far back I was until the back nine. That was when my caddie pointed out that he had dropped a couple. I knew I was in the hunt and I knew I needed one more birdie to come home.”
Wiesberger was disappointed he failed to hold on to his overnight lead.
“It didn’t quite finished the way I intended to. That’s what golf is. After the hiccup on five, I didn’t hit it anywhere as good as the last 15 rounds. It’s tough to say but it is what it is and unfortunately I beat myself out of it,” said Wiesberger
He rued a miscalculated approach shot on 17 which led to a costly bogey that put him one back with 18 to play.
“I couldn’t believe that wedge on 17 went that far. I don’t know what happened there. Maybe I got the wind wrong,” he said.
“When I hit it (birdie attempt on 18), I knew it was a bit shy. Obviously, it was a big putt and the last thing you wanted was to leave it short. It’s disappointing. I just didn’t trust my swing enough which was good the last couple of weeks. Still a good week. Congrats to Anirban who played a lovely round.”
Meanwhile, the Malaysain Open is set to see a new home next year, as plans are afoot to take it back to its roots -- the Royal Selangor Golf Club -- where it started its humble beginnings in 1962.