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7 December 2003

Irish eyes smiling as Harrington wins OMEGA Hong Kong Open

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Ireland's Padraig Harrington, the highest-ranked player in the field, birdied the final two holes on Sunday to win a drama-packed Omega Hong Kong Open with a last round four-under-par 66.

Harrington holed a 20 foot putt on the 18th green to edge Hennie Otto of South Africa who had birdied three of the last four holes in a round of 65 to set a target of 10-under-par 270.



It is the second year in a row that the world number 10 has won the opening event of the season on The European Tour, following his triumph at the 2002 BMW Asian Open in Taiwan.



The US$700,000 tournament at The Hong Kong Golf Club was the first leg of The European Tour's 2003/2004 season and the penultimate tournament of this year's Asian PGA Tour.



Harrington had a four round total of 11-under-par 269 to finish a stroke ahead of Otto, who was aiming for his first win on the European Tour.



"The Far East suits me - I like the greens here," said Harrington, who won US$113,000 and an Omega De Ville Co-Axial watch, worthy of HK$94,100, for first place. "I went out there at the start of the day expecting to do well."



"I knew that a lot of people would have to shoot low to keep up with me."



Sweden's Fredrik Jacobson, the defending champion, finished in joint third place on seven-under-par 273 with England's Chris Gane, Thomas Bjorn of Denmark and Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke.



Christopher Hanell, who led the field by a shot going into the final round, shot a closing 72 to finish in tie for seventh place with Thailand's Prayad Marksaeng, the top Asian finisher. Prayad , who was a shot off the lead going into the final round, shot a one over par 71.



Harrington eased into the lead with a three-under-par front nine of 31 but let things slip at the 10th where he had a bogey after losing his ball in the woods off the tee.



A birdie at the 12th was negated by a bogey five at the 14th and as he approached the 16th green he had been overtaken by Otto who was playing two groups ahead.



Otto, who led this year's British Open after the first round before finishing tied 10th, blew the tournament wide open with birdies on the 13th, 15th, 16th and 17th holes. He had an uphill birdie putt of five foot at the last to go to 11-under-par but missed it right.



"It's the first tournament for the new season and if you had given me second place at the start of the week, I would have taken it. It is certainly a big confidence boost for the new season. I just came up a bit short," said Otto, who learned the game in South Africa at the shoulders of Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.



"I putted really well today and in the last few holes, I found my swing and hit it really close to the holes and made the putts for birdies on 15, 16 and 17. I had made a bogey on 14 which I knew was not good as the back nine were not bogey holes."


<br/"And then I missed the putt at the last from five feet for birdie - I knew I needed that one to have a chance of winning. Thomas' (Bjorn) putt went one way and mine went the opposite way. It was just how the greens are."

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Harrington had a brilliant up and down from behind the green at the 16th and, playing aggressive golf, birdied the last two holes to become the first Irishman to win the Omega Hong Kong Open in its storied 45-year history and the only player to win the opening event of The European Tour in successive years.



"It was only at the 16th that I realised that Hennie Otto was in the lead," said Harrington. "My whole plan changed then and I got very aggressive. I got back into my focus for my last few holes. It was nice to turn it round like that."



"At the 16th it could not have been a worse situation - I was on the edge at the back of the bunker. It was all or nothing there - if I had put it in the bunker it would not really have mattered as I was behind. There was no second best there."



Harrington added that he was pleased that the tournament offered a sizeable number of world ranking points as he was taking eight weeks off the circuit after defending the Williams World Challenge in the United States next week.



"I needed a few points in the world rankings to have a bit of fat over the winter," said Harrington.

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