Magical Moore retains title at CIMB Classic

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(From left) Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak presenting the trophy to the CIMB Classic 2014 winner USA Ryan Moore with CIMB group chairman Datuk Seri Nazir Razak.Photo by Suhaimi Yusuf

KUALA LUMPUR: American Ryan Moore successfully defended his title at the US$7 million (RM23.03 million) CIMB Classic after holding off combined challenges from last year’s runner-up Gary Woodland, Kevin Na and Sergio Garcia yesterday.

Tied for the overnight lead, Moore, 31, produced some glorious golf down the stretch at a sun-kissed Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club (KLGCC) to shoot a five-under par 67 for a stylish three-stroke victory. He pocketed the champion’s cheque of US$1.26 million with his winning total of 17-under par 271.

Na, a former Asian Tour rookie of the year, battled tooth-and-nail with Moore for much of the final round but missed makeable birdie chances on 14 and 16 before his hopes took a dent when an errant tee shot on 17 got stuck in the trees which led to a double bogey.

The Korean-American recovered with a birdie at the last hole for a 70 to tie Woodland, who carded a 67 and world No 4 Garcia, who posted a closing 69, in the event sanctioned by the Asian Tour and PGA TOUR.

Asian Tour rookie Cameron Smith of Australia extended his dream season by finishing tied fifth on 276 alongside South Korea’s Bae Sang-moon, an Asian Tour graduate, while Filipino Angelo Que and Thailand’s Prom Meesawat were among those who shared eighth position on 278, with all three earning exemptions into next week’s PGA Tour event in Mississippi.

With massive crowds gathered at the KLGCC, Moore birdied three of the last five holes to race home to his fourth PGA Tour victory and become the first repeat champion at the CIMB Classic, which was inaugurated in 2010 as the first PGA Tour event held in Southeast Asia.

“It was incredible to finish the way I did. Coming down to the last few holes, I like to tell myself all the time that I’m a closer. That’s what I play golf for. These are the moments and what I’m out here for, so let’s do what we can. Let’s just hit good shots, and let’s see if we can close this thing, and I was able to do that,” said a delighted Moore.

Na, who won his first professional title in Malaysia in 2002 and was chasing a second PGA Tour victory, led by one at the turn before Moore drew level with his fifth birdie of the day on 10. The pivotal moment came on the drivable par four 14th hole when Na found the green while Moore laid up.

As it turned out, Na three-putted for par while Moore hit a superb approach for an easy birdie to lead for the first time on his own in the final round. He sandwiched a bogey with birdies on 15 and 17 but it was enough to allow him to stroll home at the last hole.

“On 14, Kevin hit a great drive that looked like kind of almost like a two-putt for birdie and I had laid up, but that was my strategy. And to hit a great wedge shot in there was perfect,” said Moore.

“I then hit a great shot into 15, kind of made a mess of 16 but then bounced right back and hit just a great little wedge into 17 really to kind of cap it off. At that point, I could just cruise in.”

Na was disappointed to let victory slip from his grasp. “It was my tournament but Ryan played fantastic. Hats off to him, he deserves it. It’s disappointing when you know you had the lead and it’s yours,” said Na.

“I hit a good drive on 14 and a yard shorter, the ball would have come down stone dead for eagle. I hit a good putt and it broke the other way. On 16, I was a bit frustrated. A camera went off and I backed off and never regrouped [to miss his birdie chance]. It’s my fault for hitting a bad putt. At the next hole, I got very unlucky, hit the trees and the ball never came down.”

Garcia, the highest ranked player in the field, stayed within touch of the leaders with an outward 33 but a poor drive on 10 led to a double bogey seven which eventually took the steam out of his title run.

“Front nine, I was quite good and gave myself a lot of chances and I just had a really bad break on 10, hit my tee shot a little left and hit the cart path, and the ball kind of disappeared. That one put me a little bit behind the eight ball,” said the Spaniard.

The 22-year-old Smith, a former Australian amateur champion, enjoyed his sixth straight top-10 on the Asian Tour and picked up US$226,000 for his biggest career cheque thus far which moved him up to fourth place on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit.

“Beyond expectations for me. Yeah, I’m pretty happy,” beamed Smith. “I think I’m going to go [to the PGA Tour event next week]. It would be a pretty hard offer to turn down.” — Asian Tour

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on November 3, 2014.