03 Dec 2023 | Australian Open | Men's Australian Open |
Men's wrap: Niemann adds Chile to illustrious Australian Open honour roll
by Jimmy Emanuel
Joaquin Niemann was out more than hour before the final group, yet he was right in the thick of the action when play concluded at the ISPS HANDA Australian Open as he became the first Chilean to lift the Stonehaven Cup.
The 25-year-old defeated Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino in extra holes with Australia’s Min Woo Lee finishing third.
Moving his way up the leaderboard on the final day with five birdies in 16 holes, Niemann watched on as the later groups battled increasing winds to challenge his score.
Things took a dramatic turn as his primary challenger for the clubhouse lead, Adam Scott, made triple bogey at the seventh, his 16th hole of the day, after his drive was determined to be Out of Bounds.
Niemann dropped his first shot of the day shortly after at the 17th with his chances of a first DP World Tour win and spot in The Open Championship looking more precarious after a flared drive right on the last hole.
Finding the fan village that is typically a driving range, Niemann faced a second shot to the par-5 over the hospitality tents, Niemann showing his class with a flushed iron and wait to hear the reaction of the crowd.
He received an exceptionally positive response when his approach found the green, before two putts and a birdie took him to the solo lead on 14-under.
“I mean, I ended up being in a really good spot. It was a perfect lie,” Niemann said. “My swing, I didn’t have the trees in front of me, it was kind of like just a normal shot.
“The only thing I didn’t know where I was hitting.”
Niemann spent his time waiting on the driving range hitting balls, chatting with wife Christina and attempting to keep nerves at bay.
“Too much wait, it was like an hour wait. I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
The chasing pack was admirably doing their best to draw level, or in the case of Min Woo Lee and Hoshino potentially go past Niemann’s 14-under mark as Scott reflected on his day that had the atmosphere fully charged when he was the first player to reach the same mark.
“It’s too hard to know exactly what to make of it. Obviously it doesn’t look very good, but bad swing on one of the hardest holes and it’s cost me a chance,” Scott said.
“What did I have, about a 5% chance teeing off today? So it’s hard to be really upset at myself.
After Scott’s stumble, Lee again had almost the entire crowd cheering him on as he attempted to grab his own slice of history with an Australian Open title to add to his Australian PGA of last week.
The West Australian was unable to recover from two early bogeys on Sunday with Lee adding just one birdie to his tournament total in a final round 72 that left him on 12-under and two shots out of sudden death.
“Just putts didn’t go my way and I didn’t hit it good enough. But I thought I scrambled really well. I think the positives out of that, I made up and down from literally everywhere,” Lee said.
“It’s not good enough to win a tournament, but it’s been a really good year. I’m pretty proud of the way I’ve finished and celebrations begin today.”
Unlike Lee, Hoshino got the putter working on the back nine with birdies at 12 and 17 to level Niemann’s score. His closing holes were almost as adventurous as Niemann’s, with a long putt finding the cup at the penultimate hole before a drive right on 18 caused a lay-up.
Leaving more than 20 feet for birdie and the win, the six-time Japanese Tour winner couldn’t drop another long try and sent himself and Niemann back to the 18th tee.
Hoshino found the large fairway bunker left from the tee followed by the greenside sand as Niemann striped another iron that finished close before he and caddie Gary Matthews disagreed on the exact line.
“I was struggling with my right to left during the whole week, and I got there and I had a right to left putter. And I told Gary that ‘I like it just outside’, he say he’d like it a little less, I say ‘I like it a little more’.”
It was back to the tee for a third time on Sunday for the Australian Open hopefuls, with Hoshino playing the hole in almost a carbon copy of the first play-off hole. Niemann obliging the crowd with his own repeat performance, this time hitting his second shot even closer to take any doubt of an eagle three out of the equation.
Niemann this time found the bottom of the cup to emerge triumphant and join the honour roll on the Stonehaven Cup that includes the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Greg Norman and Scott. It’s a list the Chilean was admiring during his press conference as he sat alongside women’s champion Ashleigh Buhai.
“There are good names here. I saw Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player – a few good men,” he said looking at the trophy.
“It means a lot. I wanted to win so bad for a long time. The last one I have is in Riviera.”
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