2006: Mamat: Singapore’s star

Singapore

Golf was first played in this former British colony in 1891, but 115 years passed before Singapore could claim a champion on the PGA European Tour.

That honor went to 38-year-old Mardan Mamat, who concluded a wire-to-wire victory March 12 at the OSIM Singapore Masters. His 12-under-par 276 total at Laguna Golf and Country Club was one better than defending champ Nick Dougherty, who was one of six players to test Mamat’s meddle with gap-closing numbers in Round 3.

Mamat broke down in tears after getting up-and-down for par from thick greenside rough on the 72nd hole. He called the victory “the biggest achievement of my life.” Indeed, Mamat suddenly had become a national hero to this Southeast Asian country of 4.4 million people, who live on a group of islands about 3.5 times the size of Washington, D.C.

“Things went my way this week,” Mamat said. “I hope I have inspired all the young Singaporeans to achieve what I have achieved. It is such a good feeling I cannot express it.”

Mamat became the fourth first-time winner in as many weeks on the European Tour, following Kevin Stadler, Charlie Wi and Simon Dyson. The Singapore Masters is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour, to which Mamat is no stranger.

He won the Royal Challenge Indian Open in 2004, finishing 12th on the Asian Tour Order of Merit that season. Mamat was the first Singaporean to qualify for the British Open, missing the cut at Royal Troon in 1997. He was part of the Singaporean team that tied for 20th in the 2005 WGC-World Cup.

Mamat, the 1994 Malaysian Amateur champion, said his game has improved dramatically since he began working with Australian instructor Kel Llewellyn in 2003. He also credits yoga. Mamat’s breakthrough victory in India in ’04 came after yoga master Sukhdev Singh told him to simply “go out and enjoy myself.”

In the final round, none of the pursuers, however, could do better than Mamat’s closing 71. Dougherty shot himself out of it with an outward 39.

“It just all went horribly wrong for me on the front nine,” Dougherty said. “I fought back well, but it was not enough in the end. Mardan finished off very well. It’s tough to hold off a bunch of us and I think he did himself proud today.”

Dougherty at least gained ground in the European Ryder Cup race. He moved up two spots to eighth on the World Points List; he gained two spots on the European Points list to seventh. The top five players on the World list as of Sept. 3 qualify, joined by the leading five players on the European Points list who are not otherwise exempt.

Party’s over: Simon Dyson, who tied for 40th thanks largely to a third-round 78, admitted to feeling the effects of celebrating his first European Tour victory. He arrived in Singapore elated but distinctly low in energy after winning the Indonesian Open March 5.

“It was really hard work out there,” Dyson said after a first-round 73. “All cylinders are empty at the minute. I’ve come down to earth, relaxed a bit and found out I’m shattered. I still felt I was swinging it all right but the tank was empty. I need some serious shut-eye. Understandably, I was out celebrating Sunday and Monday and Tuesday night.”

– Alistair Tait and wire reports

On the tee

Next up: Madeira Island Open, March 23-26, Santo da Serra Golf Club, Madeira Island. Defending champion: Robert-Jan Derksen.

The buzz: After a four-month swing through Africa, the Middle East and Asia, the tour returns to Europe – sort of – on this Portuguese island off the coast of Morocco.

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