Wednesday 21 February 2018

An storms into big time after PGA masterclass

Shane Lowry
Shane Lowry

Kevin Garside

An Byeong-Hun, or Ben An as he is more readily known, was probably not the first name on the lips of Wentworth folk at the start of the tournament.

However, at the end of it there was little talk of anyone else, save perhaps Chris Wood, who bagged a Beamer with a hole in one.

At 23 years old, An became the first Asian and only the third rookie to win the BMW PGA Championship on debut. This time last year the South Korean was just another hopeful dreaming big on the European Challenge Tour.

Today he wakes up €833,000 richer and with his entry into next month's US Open, and a host of big events this summer guaranteed. There was a sense that golf had unearthed a great one six years ago when An became the youngest to win the US Amateur Championship at 17. But amateur glory does not always convert to professional gold.

It did yesterday in a round of 65 to give An victory by a remarkable six strokes on 21-under par, a tournament record. Five birdies, an eagle and no bogeys, was the meat of the matter. "Welcome to the big time" tweeted his manager Chubby Chandler, who knows a bit about talent spotting after signing Rory McIlroy as a 17-year-old and guiding him to a first Major title.

"I'm really excited and over the moon right now. I wasn't expecting this. It's going to be life-changing," An said.

England's Chris Wood, playing in the company of Shane Lowry yesterday and once of Chandler's parish, also had reason to celebrate, his hole-in-one at the 14th earning him a BMW sports car worth £100,000.

More valuable than that was the confidence that came with a final-round 66 that propelled Wood into fourth place, his highest finish at Wentworth. Having spent five months on the sidelines with a broken wrist sustained last October during a tennis lesson, Wood's first concern on his return was to secure his playing rights for next year.

He is a long way towards ticking that box now, though after struggling with a worrying back condition earlier in his career, he might have to think twice before lowering his 6ft 5ins frame into his new motor.

"Like all the players, we sort of look on that 14th on Tuesday when we have a practice round and we think, wouldn't it be nice, a BMW i8. Never think that it's going to happen to you," Wood said.

"I hit a great shot, seven iron, and it was a bit of a delayed reaction because you hear two cheers, one sounded like it just missed and the second one it went in. It was a long winter at home, and five months off. But to finish top-five in a marquee event here at Wentworth is a big boost in confidence."

Lowry will also take a huge amount of positives from his weekend display as he heads to Royal County Down for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open €162,500 richer after finishing tied sixth.

The Offaly man carded a three-under-par 69 for an 11-under-par tally and, remarkably, went bogey-free for the last three rounds.

However, An was the man of the moment yesterday, despite good showings from two veterans, Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, who finished tied second on 15-under, six shots behind the Korean.

Across the Atlantic, Chris Kirk's four-round total of 12-under saw him land the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Fort Worth, while Colin Montgomerie retained his Seniors PGA crown by four shots at French Lick, Indiana.

Independent News Service

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