The 635th-ranked New Zealander Ben Campbell beat “frustrated” major winner Cameron Smith by one stroke for a stunning triumph at the $2 million Hong Kong Open on Sunday, which included a bizarre chain of events at the 16th hole.
Campbell achieved his first title on the Asian Tour with back-to-back birdies on the last two holes to record a final-round four-under-par 66 at a sunny Fanling.
The unheralded Kiwi finished on 19-under overall to snatch a famous victory in the LIV-supported International Series event.
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“I was battling all day,” said Campbell, whose career has been stymied by injuries.
“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.
“Throughout the year I’ve had chances (to win) but not been able to finish it off, so great to put that behind me now.
“Monkey’s off the back now.”
Campbell, Smith and Phachara Khongwatmai of Thailand all held a share of the lead at 18-under heading into the final hole. While Smith made par and Khongwatmai dropped one stroke on the par-four hole, Campbell held his nerve to birdie and win a thriller.
There was ample confusion and delay minutes earlier on the 16th hole, with then-outright leader Khongwatmai showing brazen conduct as Campbell and Smith watched on.
After miscuing his drive into thick flora, Khongwatmai not only failed to clear the area with his second shot, but seemed to push the ball further into the bushes.
A bizarre near 20-minute delay followed as Khongwatmai, despite barely being able to see the ball, agonised over his next move and changed clubs several times to try and play the shot.
Smith and Campbell appeared visibly irritated by Khongwatmai’s actions, with the Kiwi complaining to officials nearby.
“He can’t stand all over this, can he?” Campbell was heard saying.
“I think you need to get another official.
“He’s broken these branches here … Look at that, these just got broken.”
The TV commentators were left flabbergasted by the scenes.
“The playing partners are clearly concerned,” broadcaster Dougie Donnelly said.
“It’s all becoming just a little bit chaotic.
“There’s a lot of head shaking going on
“Oh he’s now down on his knees – and he can’t see the ball.
“He’s not thinking clearly … This could go horribly wrong.
Fellow broadcaster Dom Boulet added: “Surely he’s not thinking of playing that?”
Khongwatmai somehow chopped the ball out of the flora and next to the fairway, but recorded a double-bogey six in a blow to his chances of winning.
Khongwatmai and Canada’s hard-charging Richard T. Lewere finished joint third, two shots off the triumphant Campbell, with Smith second.
It was a disappointing ending for the 2022 British Open champion Smith, who was in an overnight share of the lead and hoping to become the latest Australian to win Asia’s oldest professional golf tournament.
The 30-year-old, one of the biggest names to make the move to the lucrative Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour, shot a final-round two-under-par 68 to finish at 18-under.
“Pretty poor over the weekend,” said Smith, who shot a 65 on Saturday. “But I hung in there good, so lots of positives to take from that, but definitely wasn’t the nicest golf to be played over the last couple of days.
“It didn’t feel great, but it was still OK.
“Plenty of positives to take away from it, it was just a frustrating weekend.”
South Korea’s Jang Yu-bin was fifth, with major winners Graeme McDowell and Patrick Reed 12th and 15th respectively.
— with AFP