India’s Anirban Lahiri claimed the biggest victory of his burgeoning career yet with a gripping one-stroke victory over Bernd Wiesberger of Austria in the US$3 million Maybank Malaysian Open on Sunday.
The 27-year-old Lahiri, who trailed by five strokes heading into the final round, closed with a four-under-par 68 at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club’s West course to lift the Seagram trophy and champion’s cheque of US$500,000.
His 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 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.
Wiesberger, with three top-six finishes in his last three starts, started strongly with two opening birdies but a double bogey on five stopped his momentum and further bogeys on 12, 15 and 17 meant that he needed to birdie the last to force a play-off with Lahiri, who finished on 16-under-par 272. However, the 29-year-old Austrian, who was seeking a fourth career victory, left his birdie attempt from 25 feet well short of the hole.
A jubilant Lahiri said: “This is very special. This is the sixth time I’ve won and it is my first on the European Tour. I think that’s what makes it more special. The other thing that sets this win apart is that I finally won a big event. The first three events were US$300,000 events in India. They gave me a lot of joy and confidence. Without those wins, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wanted to win an event which is big, not just in prize money but in terms of the field. I played with Lee Westwood and unfortunately he had a bad day. You are playing in the field with Major winners and you beat them. That is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”
The Indian star, who joined countryman Arjun Atwal as a champion of the Maybank Malaysian Open, missed makeable birdie chances on 15 and 16 but popped one home from out of the blue on the penultimate hole to seize the advantage. He also became the fourth Indian to win an European Tour event following wins from Jeev Milkha Singh, S.S.P. Chawrasia and Arjun Atwal.
“I’d completely misread the line on 15 and my caddie advised me of the right line. Then on 16 I was pretty certain what the line was and he advised me of a different line, and it turned out I was right that time! So when I got to the 17th I said ‘believe it what you see, believe you can make this putt and just hit it’. I wasn’t thinking of lagging it or holing it, I just told myself as I walked up to it to believe that I can make it. And it went in.”
Wiesberger was disappointed he failed to hold on to his overnight lead. “It didn’t quite finish 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 of Lahiri. “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. Congrats to Anirban who played a lovely round.”
Englishman Paul Waring and Spaniard Alejandro Canizares 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 at the Maybank Malaysian Open, failed to challenge as he signed off with a disappointing 75 for tied fifth place with Asian Tour regulars Richard T. Lee of Canada (71) and American Paul Peterson (72).
Amateur Gavin Green and Danny Chia emerged as the leading Malaysians in tied 25th place on 284.
Scores after round 4 of the Maybank Malaysian Open being played at the par 72, 6,986 Yards Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club course (am – denotes amateur):
272 – Anirban LAHIRI (IND) 70-72-62-68.
273 – Bernd WIESBERGER (AUT) 70-66-63-74.
275 – Paul WARING (ENG) 69-68-65-73, Alejandro CANIZARES (ESP) 68-65-68-74.
277 – Gregory BOURDY (FRA) 70-70-68-69, Richard T. LEE (CAN) 69-69-68-71, Paul PETERSON (USA) 72-69-64-72, Lee WESTWOOD (ENG) 66-67-69-75.
278 – Marc WARREN (SCO) 70-71-69-68.
279 – S.S.P. CHAWRASIA (IND) 76-67-68-68.
280 – Nathan HOLMAN (AUS) 72-71-71-66, Wade ORMSBY (AUS) 73-69-71-67, Richard BLAND (ENG) 68-70-73-69.
281 – Scott HEND (AUS) 73-72-66-70, WANG Jeung-hun (KOR) 77-66-67-71.
282 – Robert ROCK (ENG) 70-70-74-68, Thomas PIETERS (BEL) 73-73-70-66, Peter LAWRIE (IRL) 71-66-75-70, Peter UIHLEIN (USA) 72-72-65-73.
283 – Thanyakon KHRONGPHA (THA) 74-69-70-70, Thongchai JAIDEE (THA) 72-73-67-71, Pablo LARRAZABAL (ESP) 73-69-67-74, Alvaro QUIROS (ESP) 70-70-67-76, Jake HIGGINBOTTOM (AUS) 69-71-67-76.