Wang Jeunghun wrote his name into the history books when the 21-year-old Korean won the 20th Commercial Bank Qatar Masters after a dramatic three-way playoff against South Africa’s Jaco Van Zyl and Sweden’s Joakim Lagergren.
Wang (71), who started the day with a three-shot lead, and playing partner Van Zyl (68) matched the 16-under clubhouse lead set by Lagergen (66) – whose round featured a run of five straight birdies – before the trio replayed the par-five 18th for a sudden-death playoff.
The Korean hit his aggressive approach shot next to the hospitality pavilion beyond the green and, after taking a drop, brilliantly chipped to three feet.
After Lagergren and Van Zyl missed birdie attempts from 15 and five feet respectively, Wang sank his short putt and celebrated wildly after the biggest win of his career and third European Tour title.
The 2016 European Tour Rookie of the Year became the tournament’s first Asian winner and also the youngest, beating the record set by Adam Scott in 2002 (21 years 244 days). He also became only the fourth player to win the tournament on his debut, following Andrew Coltart in the inaugural 1998 edition, Scott (2002) and Ernie Els (2005).
“I’m so happy. I’m so excited. This is the biggest tournament I’ve won,” said a beaming Wang, who enjoyed strong support including from a group of flag-waving Koreans. “I got a lot of power from my fans. They really gave me a lot of power to win.
“Actually I really didn't expect that I would win this week. I learned from the other players about the course. I just kept trying to make birdies, trying to save par and finally won.”
At 21 years and 144 days, Wang became the third-youngest player in European Tour history to win three titles, following Matteo Manassero (19 years and 206 days) and Seve Ballesteros (20 years and 77 days), but said the victory just made him want more.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence from this and now I just want to prepare for the other events,” said Wang, who won back-to-back European Tour titles in Morocco and Mauritius last May. “I feel really good right now and just want to win another one.”
Wang’s US$416,660 winner’s cheque moved him to second in the Race to Dubai Rankings and he’s now to hoping to meet his idol Tiger Woods at an upcoming event.
“Oh, yes, I really want to play with Tiger,” Wang said. “He was my idol when I was young. I’m going to be so happy if I see him next week.”
After starting the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters as World Number 60, Wang will now become the youngest player in the top 50 and give himself the chance to play in the Masters Tournament and also other majors if he can maintain his ranking.
“That’s my dream, dream tournament,” Wang said of the Masters. “When I was young, I really want to play the Masters. I always imagined that I will play there. Maybe now I have a chance to play the Masters, so I’m so happy about it. I hope I’m going to get in.”
However, Wang did admit that the back nine on Sunday at Doha Golf Club had tested his nerves as Van Zyl, Lagergren, France’s Mike Lorenzo-Vera and South Africa’s Thomas Aiken all joined him as co-leaders at different stages in a dramatic afternoon that had started so promisingly for the overnight leader.
Wang and Van Zyl both opened with two birdies to move to 17-under before the South African also birdied three and five to move to 16-under before bogeying five.
Van Zyl birdied 13 to move up to 16-under and was soon in a tie with Wang after the Korean bogeyed 14. Wang birdied 16 and bogeyed 17 to return to 16-under, level with Lagergen’s clubhouse total. On the last hole, Wang’s 12-foot birdie putt stopped one inch short of being a winning shot.
“It was really a long day for me,” said Wang, who was the youngest player in last year’s Olympic Men’s Golf Tournament in Brazil.
“I was so nervous on the back nine, so I missed a lot of greens, but my chipping was really good so I saved many pars. I think that's the key to winning this week.”
Wang also paid tribute to his Canada-based caddie Ko Dongwoo, who earned a lot of publicity through the week for his various caps featuring an upturned peak emblazoned with WANG.
“I have a really good partnership with my caddie,” said Wang, who has worked with Ko since the beginning of last year. “He’s also a great guy and we’re a good team.”
Among the big drawcards, four-time Major winner Ernie Els – the 2005 champion – finished 11-under after a 68, World Number 10 Alex Noren (70) was nine-under, 2010 US Open champion Graeme McDowell (69) was nine-under and two-time Major winner Martin Kaymer (73) was five-under.
In the morning, Thorbjørn Olesen recorded the second hole-in-one of the tournament, hitting the target at the 13th with an eight-iron from 182 yards.
However, the 27-year-old Dane didn’t earn anything for his achievement unlike England’s Chris Paisley, who aced the 17th on Friday to win US$150,000 from Qatar Duty Free, the tournament’s Hole-in-One Sponsor.
Wang joined a star-studded list of champions of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters that includes Ernie Els, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen and Thomas Bjørn, and two-time winners Adam Scott, Branden Grace and Paul Lawrie.
First held in 1998, the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters has helped establish Qatar as a world-class sporting venue and is considered the country’s annual ‘must-attend’ sporting and social event. Sitting at the heart of the European Tour’s Middle East swing, the tournament attracted over 25,000 spectators in 2016 and was broadcast to a global TV audience of over 400 million.