November 19, 2006 – José Manuel Lara breathed a huge sigh of relief after securing his maiden European Tour title with a thrilling one-shot victory in the US$2 million UBS Hong Kong Open on Sunday.
The Spaniard carded a one-under-par 69 to edge out Filipino rookie Juvic Pagunsan after a nail-biting duel over the closing holes at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling.
Lara – who had previously finished runner-up four times on the European Tour – ended the tournament with a winning total of 15-under 265.
Pagunsan, playing his first season on the Asian Tour after turning professional earlier this year, shot 68 to finish at 14-under.
“It’s a great victory,” said Lara, 29. “It’s a new thing for me. I lost my lead today but took my chance over the last few holes.
“It’s my fifth year on the European Tour. I’ve finished second four times, third three times and have been around many times and not got the trophy. This is my time. It’s a great feeling.
“You wouldn’t believe the number of people who were asking me when I would win and that put more pressure on me. Now I can say I’ve won and everything is good.
“This is a very important moment in my life,” added Lara, who collected a cheque for US$333,330.
The Spaniard began the final day of the UBS Hong Kong Open with a two-shot lead and that quickly became three as playing partner Pagunsan dropped a shot at the second hole.
But the 28-year-old Filipino kept up the pressure and was level by the turn after Lara bogeyed the seventh and ninth. From that point, the duo were never more than a stroke apart.
The tournament turned at the par-four 16th when Pagunsan, leading by a shot, pulled his drive and ended up with a bogey.
Lara birdied the hole to take a one-shot lead and he played out the final two holes to par, with a tap-in on the 18th securing the title.
“Juvic got in front of me,” said Lara. “He was a better player than I thought, especially on the greens. He putted so well. I think I was too confident but I got my chance on the 16th and that gave me the trophy. It’s been a really tough day.”
Pagunsan admitted the 16th hole was pivotal. “I hit a bad drive and missed the left side of the fairway,” he explained. “I couldn’t get out with my second shot and my third shot landed in the bunker. I was lucky as I one-putted for bogey.”
The Filipino had become a hugely popular figure at Fanling with his flashing smile and easy-going attitude.
And the grin remained in place as he collected the runner-up cheque worth US$222,220 – easily the biggest payday of his fledgling career.
“I’m really happy because I played well and there are many more tournaments to come. Lara is a very good player,” he said.
“I will try my best and keep smiling. I always smile for the fans – I don’t want to be sad.”
Indian duo Jeev Milkha Singh and Jyoti Randhawa and Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee shared third place on 12-under 268.
Singh collected US$103,333 to wrap up the Asian Tour’s UBS Order of Merit title with one tournament remaining this year.
Chinese No.1 Liang Wenchong was another player smiling on Sunday – he won a 1 kg gold bar worth approximately US$20,000 (HK$155,482) from title sponsor UBS for a hole-in-one at the 140-yard par-three 12th.