Former world No. 15 and LIV golfer Joaquin Niemann has outlasted Rikuya Hoshino to win an epic Australian Open, defeating his Japanese rival in a thrilling playoff on Sunday.
Niemann looked to be in prime position to take the win on the first hole of the playoff, with the advantage immediately as Hoshino sent his tee shot left and into the bunker.
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The Chilean then boldly stepped up and took on his second shot, sending it all the way to the green and within two metres of the pin.
Hoshino came up clutch to make birdie but Niemann still had the putt for eagle and the win, only for the ball to lip out as his Japanese rival was given a second chance.
Niemann though made sure not to make the same mistake, once again playing an aggressive shot on the second hole that put him in a position to eagle.
Hoshino, meanwhile, found himself in a bunker again off the tee shot and then sunk the putt later on for birdie to put the pressure on Niemann.
But on this occasion Niemann got the job done, making history as the first Chilean winner in the tournament’s history.
Min Woo Lee, who was looking to become the first player in 12 years to do the PGA Australia/Australian Open double, fell just short of Niemann and Hoshino at 14-under, with the Australian recording an impressive 12-under par.
Lee and Hoshino had entered Sunday’s play tied for the lead, although they quickly found themselves no longer in a two-way battle at the top, with Australian duo Adam Scott and Lucas Herbert surging early.
A few costly shots saw Scott and Herbert fall out of contention but a dramatic finish still loomed, with Hoshino and Lee pushing until the very end to try take the lead away from Niemann.
Hoshino, looking to become the first Japanese winner of this event in its 119-year history, drew level with Niemann after sinking a stunning downhill birdie putt on the 17th.
Lee, meanwhile, came up short in his own big opportunity to draw closer to the leaders.
He was able to put himself in a position to move one shot closer as he repeated his heroics from the second round, once again pulling off a miraculous escape from the pine needles, this time on the 16th.
But Lee’s putt went left and wouldn’t come back, with the Australian instead settling for par ahead of his final hole of the day.
Scott had an impressive day, finishing the tournament 11-under although he could have been in an even better position if not for a triple bogey on the seventh.
Scott sent his tee shot on the seventh hole far to the right, with it later ruled to be out of bounds as his fourth shot later came up well short of the green.
“This is heartbreaking for Scotty, having worked so hard all day to get his foot in the door,” Nicholas Coelsartes said in commentary.
It was not just Scott though who ran into problems, with Herbert stumbling for a triple bogey of his own in absolute chaos as the leaderboard was flipped on its head.
Scott also recorded a bogey on his fourth and eighth hole of the day but was otherwise largely perfect, rebounding with eight birdies.
That included sinking a sensational 20-yard putt, with Scott visibly pumped up as he took the outright lead.
It could have been nine as Scott attempted to putt it in for another birdie on the par-5 5th hole but just missed, instead settling for par.
Nonetheless it was quite the turnaround from Scott, building on an impressive showing on Saturday as he shot 67 in the third round to finish eight-under and in a six-way tie for 12th.
“It’s tough out there,” Scott said after the day’s play.
“It was even tough early but it got tougher. I was making a lot of birdies and had a couple of bogeys and then unfortunately a bad swing on the worst hole to do it probably. I paid the ultimate price there.
“It’s a shame because it would’ve been great to have a really special round and maybe have a chance sitting in the clubhouse … I played a lot of good stuff out there but one bad one is probably going to cost me.”
As other contenders crumbled around him Niemann came up clutch to sink a big putt on the 16th, moving two clear at the top.
A bogey on the 17th though opened the door for Hoshino, who made birdie to put himself in a tie for the lead alongside Niemann.
Things threatened to unravel for Niemann as his tee shot on the 18th ended up behind the hospitality tent, essentially blocking his vision of the green with the trees also towering over the tent itself.
Niemann though was somehow able to hit it over the water and onto the heart of the green, putting himself in a position to putt for an unlikely eagle and two-shot lead.
Niemann came up short and had to settle for the birdie, although it was quite the recovery and still enough to see him finish the weekend with a one-shot lead as he headed to the clubhouse — a lead that soon disappeared as Hoshino finished strong to force the playoff.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai (nine-under) defended her women’s title as Australian Minjee Lee (eight-under) came up just short, finishing runner-up in Sydney.
Lee, the world No. 5 and two-time major winner made back-to-back birdies to open Sunday’s action.
She then went on to record two bogeys in three holes to fall to third behind Jiyai Shin but later made three-straight birdies to go one shot behind the leading Buhai.
It came after Buhai, who was in a commanding position, then found water on the 17th to open the door for Lee.
Buhai though made a clutch putt for bogey to somewhat limit the damage, seeing her take a one-shot lead into the final hole of the day and that ended up being enough.
14-under: Joaquin Niemann (Che), Rikuya Hoshino (Jap)
12-under: Min Woo Lee
11-under: Adam Scott, Laurie Canter (Eng), Grant Forrest (Sco)
10-under: Lucas Herbert
9-under: Ashleigh Buhai (RSA)
8-under: Minjee Lee
Originally published as LIV golfer Joaquin Niemann makes history in epic Australian Open playoff