Niemann and Buhai taste victory in tense Australia Open finale

By AFP
December 04, 2023

SYDNEY: Chilean LIV Golf star Joaquin Niemann kept his cool to win a maiden Australian Open Sunday at the second playoff hole, while South Africa´s Ashleigh Buhai successfully defended her women´s title.

Niemann, a two-time US PGA Tour winner before joining the Saudi-backed circuit last year, denied Japan´s Rikuya Hoshino with an eagle to earn his first DP World Tour title and with it exemption to the British Open next year.

“It was a nice day. These last two playoff holes showed how I have been playing the last few weeks here in Australia,” said Niemann, a former world number 15, who endured an anxious 90-minute wait as the clubhouse leader. “My putting hasn´t been the best, but I´ve been working hard on it and it was nice to make that last putt.

Chilean Joaquin Niemann celebrates after sinking a putt to win the Australian Open golf tournament at The Australian Golf Club in Sydney on December 3, 2023. — AFP

“I always practise those three-, four-, five-feet ones and know that one of those will be to win a tournament. It´s amazing.” The Chilean fired six birdies and a bogey to card 66 and finish at 14-under at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney.

Hoshino, looking to become the first Japanese winner of the tournament in its more than 100-year history, carded a 70 to match him and send it to a tense finale. The pair played the par-five 18th in the playoff where at the first attempt Niemann missed a five-foot eagle putt to win.

But after they went back down the same hole he made no mistake from similar range to secure the win as rain began to lash down. Hoshino and Min Woo Lee -- the winner last week at the Australian PGA Championship -- were the overnight leaders by a shot, but the Australian struggled to get going.

He finished third with his 72 leaving him two behind the leaders. Australia´s Adam Scott, England´s Laurie Canter and Scotland´s Grant Forrest tied for fourth at 11-under, with the playoff drama capping a see-sawing final day.

Buhai overcame late nerves to hold off charging fellow major winner Minjee Lee for a one-shot win in the women´s tournament. In doing so, the 2022 British Open champion became the first back-to-back winner since Taiwan´s Tseng Ya-ni in 2010-11.

The 35-year-old carded a three-over-par 75 to end at nine-under for the tournament, a stroke ahead of Lee whose 69 ensured a tense finale. Buhai began a blustery day at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney with a three-stroke cushion over South Korean veteran Shin Ji-yai and seven clear of world number five Lee.

“To be honest, I wasn´t feeling the pressure, I knew Minjee and Ji-yai would come at me today,” she said. “But the conditions were so tough, I just said hit it into your spaces, play par golf and make them catch you.” Shin collapsed to a 77, ending tied for third with fellow South Korean Jenny Shin, five behind Buhai.