2002: Zhang takes unlikely path
It was unlikely enough that Lian-Wei Zhang became the first Chinese player to win a PGA European Tour event. The manner in which he did was more unlikely still.
When Ernie Els, the hottest golfer on earth, couldn’t make par on No. 18 at the Singapore Masters Jan. 26 at Laguna National Golf and Country Club, victory was Zhang’s.
“I was pretty pumped up on the front nine, but even then I was still targeting a top-3 finish,” Zhang said. “This is Ernie Els I beat. The world No. 2, who is playing very well right now.”
Last season on the Asian PGA and Japan Tours, Zhang won just under $465,000. By contrast, Els earned $1.81 million from his previous two tournaments heading into Singapore.
Els swept the PGA Tour’s Hawaii events the last two weeks to become the first player since Steve Jones in 1989 to win the Tour’s first two tournaments of the year.
Els lost the Singapore lead with a bogey on the last hole, and Zhang made a 3-foot birdie putt to complete a two-stroke swing and give him the one-shot triumph.
Zhang, a self-taught golfer, shot 2-under 70 for a 10-under 278 total.
Els held a one-stroke lead heading to the 386-yard, par-4 18th. He pushed his tee shot into the rough, and his approach landed short of the green. He chipped to within 5 feet, but missed the par putt. Els closed with 73.
Zhang’s 9-iron from 136 yards narrowly missed the hole for an eagle before stopping 3 feet from the cup. He made the putt to seal the victory.
“I just didn’t have good touch today,” Els said. “But I have to take my hat off to Zhang, he stuck in well and didn’t make any mistakes really.”
Els, who held a two-stroke lead at the start of the final round, pushed his lead to three strokes on the second hole. Zhang moved into a tie for the lead with birdies on Nos. 3, 4, and 7.
“I played OK but I didn’t putt well at all,” said Els, who made four bogeys. “From tee to green I was pretty good but from the 15th onward, I didn’t play well. “It is always tough to lose like this, but it has happened before and will probably happen again.”
Thailand’s Prayad Marksaeng finished third, one stroke behind Els. England’s Simon Khan and Dutchman Maarten Lafeber tied for fourth another stroke back.
-Staff and wire reports