Beijing: Indian rookie Rahil Gangjee won his first Asian Tour title on Sunday after holding his nerve to win the inaugural Volkswagen Masters China in a sudden-death play-off.
The 25-year-old showed the poise of a veteran at Pine Valley Golf Club to emerge victorious after a pulsating final round, which saw at least seven players in with a chance of winning the $ 300,000 event.
Gangjee and South Korea’s Mo Joong-kyung finished tied on 15-under-par 273 after rounds of 68 and 66, respectively. The unheralded Indian triumphed in the first play-off hole with a par on the 18th hole after Mo found trouble in the greenside trap.
“It’s beyond my wildest dream,” said a jubilant Gangjee, who pocketed $ 48,450 for the win. “I can’t describe what I’m feeling right now. You practise for this all your life and suddenly it happens. This feels really good,” he said.
South Korea’s Mo sent his approach shot in the play-off into the greenside bunker and failed to find the putting green with his third shot. After Mo’s chip for par slipped by the hole, Gangjee safely two-putted from 15 feet to finish ahead of joint third-place finishers Phillip Price of Wales, Korea’s Kang Wook-soon and Aussie duo Richard Moir and Adam Groom.
Mo, who like Gangjee was bogey-free Sunday, was disappointed with his runner-up finish. “During regulation, I hit a nine iron over the green. And in the play-off, I had the same yardage, 144 yards, for the approach shot on 18. I hit it too easy the second time around and then had a bad lie in the bunker.
“I am proud though to shoot a 66 but I still came up short,” said Mo, whose finish was his fourth top-10 this season. Five players entered the final round tied for the lead and jostled for position at the top of the leaderboard. Gangjee, who turned pro in 2001 after becoming India’s number one amateur player, turned in 34 and grabbed the lead on his own for the first time when he birdied the par-four 14th, the toughest hole all week, with a 12-foot putt.
Mo, meanwhile, charged into contention with four straight birdies from the 13th hole. Ryder Cup player Price and Korea’s Kang had opportunities to join in the play-off but came up one shot shy.
“It was disappointing. I didn’t really get going today, didn’t find any momentum. I had a makeable putt on 17 to give myself a chance, hit a good putt but just didn’t make it. It was very much like that the whole day,” said Price, who closed with a 69.
Gangjee, playing in only his fourth event on the Asian Tour, said he wasn’t nervous at all heading into the play-off.
“I have been playing really badly for the last few months and I wasn’t expecting much this week. I just said to myself to go out there and have some fun and I did just that,” said the slightly-built Indian.
Chinese hero Zhang Lian-wei, who celebrated his 39th birthday Sunday, finished joint seventh on 276 with Australian Kim Felton after a final round 69. He moved into contention briefly on the back nine after holing out for an eagle two on the 10th hole but a three-putt bogey on 15 dashed his title hopes.
Filipino Gerald Rosales, Singapore’s Mardan Mamat, Kyi Hla Han of Myanmar, American Jason Knutzon and Australian rookie Alistair Presnell shared ninth place on 211.