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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, February 4, 2019
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Johnson outduels Li
to clinch Saudi title


American Dustin Johnson capped a roller-coaster back nine with birdies on his last two holes and secure his first win in a full-field European Tour event at the inaugural Saudi International yesterday.

The 34-year-old American closed with a three-under par 67 to finish on 19-under par 261, two better than China’s Li Haotong, who birdied the last to take solo second place with a 69. England’s Tom Lewis (65) made a spirited charge, but after making five birdies in his first five holes, he ran out of steam and finished third at 264.

Australia’s Min Woo Lee, younger brother of LPGA Tour star Minjee Lee, shot a second successive round of seven-under par 63 in only his second start as a professional to finish solo fourth, one shot behind Lewis.

Frenchman Alex Levy (65) was fifth on 266. "It feels really good. Any time you can win a professional golf tournament, no matter where it is in the world, it’s a big win. I’m honoured to be the champion, and I’m very pleased," said Johnson. "I’m heading back to the States tonight, and I’ve got three big weeks in a row. I’ve got Pebble Beach, LA and Mexico coming up. To win here, obviously the game is in good form."

Playing in the final group after starting the day tied on 16-under par, Johnson and Li were neck and neck after eight holes with one birdie to show in their rounds.

But Li moved ahead with a chipped-in birdie from a difficult position on the ninth to take a one-shot lead into the back nine. It took a lipped-out par putt from less than two feet on the par-4 10th hole to finally wake up Johnson.

He hit a brilliant tee shot on the par-3 11th to tap-in distance to catch up with Li, and then made a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-4 12th to edge ahead by a shot. The advantage doubled on the long and tough par-4 13th hole when Li made a bogey from the greenside bunker and followed it up with another on the 14th hole.

But there was more drama to come. Johnson hit his tee shot into the Red Sea on the picturesque par-3 16th hole. He did manage to make a 15-foot putt to avoid a double bogey and with Li making a birdie on the 15th, the lead was down to one shot going into the final two holes.

Johnson managed to birdie both, while Li could not convert his on the 17th after hitting a wild tee shot.

Li was in the news recently when he was controversially penalised two shots on the final hole of the Dubai Desert Classic under the new Rules of Golf after his caddie was deemed to have lined up his putt. The penalty dropped him from tied third place to a share of 12th position.

"I think he deserved to win," said a satisfied Li. "It was a very good match, especially the front nine where I played really good. Just a little bit off on the back nine. I wasn’t my best over there again, but I learned a lot and especially that last few holes was good for me."

The 28-year-old Lewis, enjoying a resurgence in form after having dropped out of the top 400 of the world rankings in September last year, was delighted with his effort. "I was happy with that. I hit some really good shots and tap-ins a lot of the time the first few holes. Unfortunately, I hit a poor shot into the sixth and resulted in a bogey. I didn't hole any putts coming in," said Lewis, who has now risen to 68th in the world.*AFP



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