Aphibarnrat victorious at Murcar
Published 02/08/2015 | 19:07
Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat held his nerve to win his second European Tour title of the year on Sunday, beating Robert Karlsson in a hard-fought final of the inaugural Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Matchplay.
Aphibarnrat, who ended hopes of a home victory by knocking out Marc Warren in the semi-finals, was three up with four holes to play but lost the 15th, 16th and 17th and saw Karlsson fire his second shot to the 18th to 10 feet.
However, the 26-year-old from Bangkok produced an even better approach from heavy rough and, after Karlsson dragged his birdie attempt wide, holed from four feet for victory and the first prize of £122,000.
"T he next step was to win in Europe, I'm happy and proud of myself," said Aphibarnrat, whose previous wins came in Malaysia and China.
Aphibarnrat began the final with three birdies in the first four holes and although an early three-hole lead was cut to one at the turn, he drove the green on the short 11th to set up a birdie and won the 14th when Karlsson three-putted from long range.
Karlsson, who had needed 20 holes to defeat former Ryder Cup team-mate David Howell in the semi-finals, was handed a lifeline when Aphibarnrat found water with his approach to the 15th green and did not even attempt to take a penalty drop and hole his fourth shot.
"I just wanted to keep the energy to play the last three holes," he said. "My body was getting so tired after playing 36 holes for the last two days."
A par was enough for Karlsson to win the 16th and a birdie on the 17th got him back on level terms, but it was the man dubbed 'Asia's John Daly' due to his physique, long swing and attacking approach who came out on top.
"I was so proud to be described as the John Daly of Asia," Aphibarnrat added. "I was happy with that. He was one of my idols so I studied him.
"I remember a long time ago some guy kept telling me that if I had a long backswing like that I would not grow up to be a professional. Today I can show them it is not just the backswing - it is how you hole putts to make low scores."
Former European number one Karlsson has suffered a number of problems with form and fitness since topping the Order of Merit in 2008, most famously withdrawing from the 2012 Open Championship on the eve of the event because he was unable to start his backswing.
And after missing the cut in his previous six events and playing "awful" in Wednesday's pro-am, he admitted to looking up flight times back to North Carolina in anticipation of an early exit.
"It was much better than I expected coming in here," said Karlsson, who won the last of his 11 European Tour titles in 2010. "I can take a lot of positives out of it. Obviously getting that close it stings a bit, but it's part of being a professional golfer.
"It's been a pretty poor five years. I had a good run last year in the middle of summer when I played nicely, but it's nice to get this one under the belt and hopefully carry on the next few weeks."
Howell defeated Warren by one hole in the third/fourth place play-off, but was left to rue a costly bogey on the 20th hole of his semi-final after recovering from three down with six to play.
" Although Robert played well early on, to lose in a play-off is always frustrating and I made a mistake to do that, so that was all the more annoying," Howell said.
"But i t has been great fun. You can play weeks on end on the Tour without having that crucial moment where you've got to hit a good shot or hole the putt to win. In match play you get them every day and every hole. It's been a great week and the players have really enjoyed it."
Warren, who was five over par in losing 3&2 to Aphibarnrat in the last four, admitted: ''I played absolutely terrible. I don't think I hit the middle of the club face once and did not really deserve to go any further with that sort of performance."