Aaron Rai sealed his first European Tour title in spectacular fashion after fending off a late surge from Matthew Fitzpatrick for a wire-to-wire victory at the Honma Hong Kong Open presented by Amuni.
The Englishman, who gained automatic promotion to the European Tour in 2017 after three wins on the European Challenge Tour, started the final round with a six shot-lead over Fitzpatrick but had it cut to one by the close of play after the five-time European Tour winner heaped the pressure on with seven birdies in 16 holes. But Fitzpatrick’s challenge faltered when he carded his first bogey of the day at the 17th to give his compatriot a two-shot cushion heading up the 18th. Despite a bogey at the last, Rai signed for a final round 69 to start the 2018-2019 Race to Dubai season in style with victory in just his 46th European Tour appearance.
“What a way to start the 2018-2019 Race to Dubai season with a new winner on the European Tour,” said Nick Tarratt, Director, European Tour International Dubai Office. “Aaron played some sensational golf this week including an outstanding course-record 61 in the second round and is yet another example of the European Challenge Tour providing a pathway to success.”
A new points system has been introduced for the European Tour’s 2019 Race to Dubai with each tournament classified into one of nine different bands with Major championships in band nine and the smallest prize money events in band one. Point allocation will now follow one universal breakdown, awarding a standardised percentage of the points available to each position on the leaderboard to create a more consistent, performance-based system for European Tour Members who have a lower category on the exemption list.
With his triumph in the band two tournament, Rai receives 460 Race to Dubai points to leave him at the summit of the Race to Dubai Rankings after the first event on the calendar.
“It definitely hasn’t sunk in just yet, I’ll probably need a few days for that to happen,” said the 23 year old.
“It’s incredible to win on any Tour, let alone the European Tour and let alone the Hong Kong Open. It’s an incredible course and event which is very well supported. The crowds have been amazing. I’m just very grateful.”
“Matt played incredibly all day. It was tough but again, I really just tried to play the course as much as possible rather than Matt or anyone else who was playing well today. I luckily managed to do that for most of the way around. It was tough considering the situation but I’m very pleased.”
Fitzpatrick’s runner-up finish saw him pick up 305 Race to Dubai points to leave him in second place on the Rankings. “Obviously it was disappointing to make such a simple bogey on the 17th,” said the Yorkshireman after his blistering round of 64 saw him fall just one short of Rai. “But I gave it a good go. It was always going to be tough to beat him. The last two days he’s been very solid and not given anything away, which made my life more difficult.”
Meanwhile, 2018 European Challenge Tour graduate Victor Perez sealed a tied third place finish in his first event since securing a European Tour card by finishing third on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah Rankings. The Frenchman and Australian Jason Scrivener both pick up 154.5 points after finishing five behind Rai.
David Drysdale finished one further back in fifth to secure 116 points while Spanish duo Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello joined Shubhankar Sharma in sixth place for 82.7 points.