McDowell fades as Campbell denies Smith glory in controversial end to Hong Kong Open

Fatiha Betscher

Ben Campbell (Photo: Asian Tour)

Fatiha Betscher

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Graeme McDowell produced a no frills final round to settle for a share of 12th place while Kiwi Ben Campbell brilliantly birdied his closing two holes to deny Aussie Cam Smith and capture a maiden Tour victory but only after a somewhat controversial ending to the 62nd hosting of the Hong Kong Open.

Campbell, Smith and Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai were locked at 18-under coming down the last and 32-year-old Campbell sealed success with a birdie-three at the last for a round of 66 and a 19-under-par tally, while Smith parred the hole and sign for a 68 to remain at 18-under, and Khongwatmai, who had led the field through 15 holes, walked off with a bogey and a 69 to be officially tied third with Canadian Richard T. Lee at 17-under.

Smith and Khongwatmai went into the final day tied for the top at 16-under with Campbell, always in contention, just one behind.

It was 2022 Open Champion Smith who made the early big move when he birdied the second while his Thai playing partner bogeyed to hand World No. 19 ranked Smith a two shot lead.

Smith bogeyed six but when he birdied the back-to-back 10th and 11th holes, it did look a matter of how many shots the LIV player would win.

Smith stalled, ending with seven straight pars, while Campbell was always lurking and while he parred the 11th to 16th holes the New Zealander stepped forward just when required.

However, the World No. 261st Khongwatmai was involved in a debate with Smith and Campbell, about an incident at the 16th hole after Khongwatmai skewed his tee shot into thick bushes, and took an inordinate amount of time to assess whether he had a swing for his second.

Having called a rules official to help with the situation, Campbell and then Smith protested Khongwatmai and his caddie’s traipsing through the dense scrub and movement of a dead branch which appeared connected to vines and other bushes. Clearly frustrated with Khongwatmai’s treatment of the area and explanation from the rules official, Campbell even quipped: “I think we need to get another rules official.”

Khongwatmai was enjoying a one-shot lead at the time and couldn’t scrape his ball out of the bushes on his first attempt. He was forced to get down on his knees to muscle his third shot only a few metres into the nearby rough.

He eventually signed for a double-bogey six and surrendered his lead after the controversy, but Khongwatmai and Campbell both made birdie on the 17th hole to ensure a three-way tie heading down the last.

Campbell commenced the 2023 Asian Tour season in good form finishing runner-up in own New Zealand Open and with Hong Kong Open triumph has lifted him to fourth on the Asian Tour money list, as well as finally ‘getting the victory monkey of my back’ he said.

“I was battling away all day,” said Campbell, who becomes the first player to win the US$2 million (S$2.72 million) tournament since its return from a four-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I’ve had quite a few injuries and bulged discs in the back and things like that, so I had to change the swing quite a bit, especially in the last two or three years.

“I didn’t get off to the best of starts and the swing wasn’t feeling that great. I was getting a bit tight in the swing but from past experiences I was able to put together a couple of nice swings down the stretch, which really helped.”

McDowell made it four rounds in the 60s, although a last day one-under 69 was not what the Northern Irishman was looking for. He kick-started the last round going birdie, bogey and birdie while that was pretty much mirrored in taking bogey at five, birdie at seven and then making the turn with a third bogey of his round at the ninth.

G Mac than sandwiched a 13th hole birdie among his nine inward half holes.

Looking at McDowell’s fourth round he hit 12 of 18 greens and superbly one-putted nine holes, with his two early bogeys coming from three putts.

He now joins the Tour in heading to Indonesia for Jakarta for Thursday’s start to the Indonesian Masters.

In contrast, Bandon’s Brian O’Donovan and England-born caddy Danny Harrison return to their day jobs as teaching professionals at the host Hong Kong Golf club, with O’Donovan signing off with a disappointing closing five-over 75 to share 77th place with Scotland’s David Drysdale at three-over.

Despite the disappointing finish O’Donovan can be rightfully proud of his efforts not only in making the halfway cut but also in the marvellous manner both he and Harrison represented the club.  O’Donovan had only begun working at the Hong Kong Golf Club in July.

And American Andy Ogletree, who only needed the make the halfway cut this past week, is headed to the LIV Tour by officially locking-in the Asian Tour Order of Merit No. 1 position.

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