Hua Hin, Thailand: Brazilian Lucas Lee overcame a nervy closing five holes to win the Asian Tour Qualifying School Final Stage on Saturday.
Lee, who held a five-stroke lead going into the final round, bogeyed three of the last five holes for a final round two-over-par 74 for a four-day total of 17-under-par 271 to defeat Australia’s Tim Stewart (68) and Scotland’s Ross Bain (70) by one stroke at the Springfield Royal Country Club.
Japanese Hirohito Koizumi carded a 70 to finish in fourth place on a 275 total while India’s Himmat Rai, Kieran Pratt of Australia and Thailand’s Thanyakon Khrongpha were among the seven players bunched up in tied fifth place on a 276 total.
A total of 43 players earned exclusive playing opportunities on the new 2011 Asian Tour season where the cut was set at six-under-par 282.
“It feels good every time you win a tournament. Winning the Qualifying School opens up a lot of doors for me and it gives me the opportunity to advance in my career. I lost my Asian Tour card last year but I’m happy to be back again,” said the 24-year-old, who finished in 97th place on the Order of Merit last season.
Lee, who played college golf at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), kept a cool head despite being under immense pressure in the closing five holes and credited his superb opening two day performances for his victory.
“The most important round was my second round 65 at Imperial Lakeview Golf Club because it added on to my opening 62. I played pretty good in the third round as well but I couldn’t get anything going today. I stayed patient and that paid off,” said Lee.
Highly rated Thanyakon, who won an Asian Development Tour event last year, finished as the top Thai player after making two birdies in his last four holes.
“I’m very happy to earn my Asian Tour card. I can’t wait to play my first tournament here and do my best in making a name for myself like Thongchai Jaidee. This is a very big achievement for me,” said the two-time gold medallists in the Southeast Asian Games.
Indian prospect Rai, bounced back from a lacklustre performance in the third round with a blemish free card and was over the moon to make a swift return to the Asian Tour.
“I’m ecstatic! I knew I made it tough yesterday even thought I didn’t say it but I was quite disappointed with the way I performed. But my performance was sublime today. I was hitting it close and took all the opportunities I could. It was according to plan and I’m looking forward to play in the Asian Tour again,” smiled Rai.
Timothy Tang shot a 70 for a 279 total to finish in tied 21st place and will represent Hong Kong in this year’s Asian Tour season as he mixed his card with four birdies and one eagle against four bogeys. The 24-year-old, who grew up and graduated in the United States with a degree in communications from the College of Charleston, was delighted to take a giant step forward in his professional career.
“I tried qualifying for my Asian Tour card last year but didn’t get past the First Stage. But Hong Kong PGA gave me a Final Stage exemption for this year and I’ve been practising really hard for this week,” said Tang, who turned professional in 2009.
“My friend advised me to play in the Asian Tour Qualifying School and hopefully in the future I can represent Hong Kong in the World Cup or even in the Olympics. This is definitely a good stepping stone for my career. Getting my Asian Tour card is a good start to 2011,” he added.
Leading final round scores
271 - Lucas LEE (BRA) 62-65-70-74
272 - Tim STEWART (AUS) 70-67-67-68, Ross BAIN (SCO) 68-69-65-70
275 - Hirohito KOIZUMI (JPN) 65-68-72-70
276 - Masamichi UEHIRA (JPN) 70-70-69-67, Himmat RAI (IND) 70-68-73-65, KANG Kyung-nam (KOR) 69-71-68-68, Kieran PRATT (AUS) 68-67-76-65, Thanyakon KHRONGPHA (THA) 69-68-70-69, Andrew RAITT (ENG) 71-68-67-70, Pierre-Henri SOERO (FRA) 68-65-71-72
277 - Matthew ROSENFELD (USA) 69-73-68-67, Peter GUSTAFSSON (SWE) 67-74-70-66, Berry HENSON (USA) 67-72-72-66, Panuphol PITTAYARAT (THA) 65-72-68-72
278 - Kalle SAMOOJA (FIN) 73-68-68-69, PARK Jin-Woo (KOR) 71-67-70-70, Joonas GRANBERG (FIN) 71-69-68-70, Do KIM (AUS) 71-66-69-72, Hirotaro NAITO (JPN) 67-72-73-66
Photo - Asian Tour
Asian Tour GolfGreedy.com