SIGNAPORE, (Oct. 2, 2011) --Hideki Matsuyama has won the third Asian Amateur Championship with a superb final round 67 at The Singapore Island Country Club.
The 19-year-old defending champion, who won the title in his native Japan last year, hit five birdies in a bogey-free round to finish 18-under par and one shot clear of South Korea’s Lee Soo-min.
Victory means a return to the Masters Tournament in April for Matsuyama, where he made history last year by becoming the first Asian golfer to win the Silver Cup for low amateur.
He was never behind after the first hole but faced competition from Lee Soo-min who signed for the lowest score of the week after a birdie on the 18th hole secured a round of 64.
Overnight leader Ben Campbell also stayed in touch after recovering from a difficult start to shoot 70 and finish in third place at 16-under thanks to late birdies on holes 16 and 17.
However, Matsuyama continued to hit fairways and greens and secured back-to-back wins with a tap-in par on the 605-yard 18th.
Admitting to feeling some nerves at the start of the back nine, he said: “To be honest my feet started shaking, I was really nervous but I was happy that I was able to play my game even under that tremendous pressure. If you look at today and yesterday, I didn’t shoot any bogeys so that was very encouraging for me.”
His final total of 270 consisted of rounds of 67-71-65-67 over The SICC’s New Course and sets the record for the lowest 72-hole score in Asian Amateur Championship history. It means that he has recorded a sub-par score in every round he has played in the competition.
The Tohoku Fukushi University Student continued his great form from yesterday with birdies on holes 1, 8, 9, 12 and 16. A rare missed green on the 15th provided hope for his opponents but a deft chip making full use of the green saw him make a comfortable par and stay one-shot ahead of the field before going a further shot up at the next hole.
Matsuyama – who finished T-27 at last year’s Masters to record the third best finish ever by an international amateur - admitted to feeling added pressure coming into the tournament as defending champion but that the thought of a return to Augusta National kept him motivated.
He added: “At last year’s Asian Amateur Championship, I was able to enjoy the tournament because it was my first time and I did not have a lot of pressure. But this time, since I knew that I had to win to play Augusta again, it was extra pressure for me and it is something I’ve never been through before.
“I think it was because I wanted so badly to go back to play Augusta again. That is why the pressure was there but I am happy that I managed to get over it.”
An exciting climax to the tournament was provided by South Korea’s Lee Soo-min who followed a three-under par front nine with birdies on holes 10, 11 and 12 to get to 16-under par. He looked to have blown his chance when an errant tee shot on the 16th forced him to lay up only to produce a wonderful chip to within inches of the cup to secure an unlikely birdie.
On the short 305-yard, par-four, 17th he again looked to have blown his chance after a sliced drive bounced onto a road narrowly avoiding going out-of-bounds. The 17-year-old then almost holed a chip after a recovery shot went through would have put him in a tie for the lead. His 64 ties the record low round in AAC history.
Lee said: “I played really well today. I was really good with the short wedge shots, from like 40 or 50 yards. I wasn’t hitting the ball any better today but any time I made a bad shot I recovered well. I was really satisfied with how I played this week.
“All I want to do now is play well and I look forward to next year’s tournament.”
Although Lee missed out on the title, as runner-up he will join Matsuyama in International Final Qualifying for The Open Championship 2012.
The champion revealed he was fully aware that the South Korean was making a charge for the title. “I tried to focus on my game and not worry too much about him as there’s not much I could do,” he explained.
“So I focused on my game and kept building my scores. That’s the only point I tried to focus on.
“Obviously Campbell played great. He was leading the tournament but I knew that most players were very good players, so I tried to keep up with them and that helped me to keep motivated as well.”
It was a frustrating day for Campbell as the New Zealander double-bogeyed the 2nd hole to see his overnight lead turn into a two shot deficit to his playing partner. The 20-year-old recovered well with birdies at holes 3, 7 and 8 that kept him in contention. Further birdies at 16 and 17 kept him in touch but Matsuyama’s tap in par meant there would be no shock finish.
Campbell – who underwent surgery on his foot just seven weeks ago - said: “I didn’t find it easy. I couldn’t seem to putt it in a line, where I wanted it to. I made a bit of a run coming in and had a good putt on 16, but overall it wasn’t too bad.
“If someone said I’d finish third at the start of the week I’d be pretty happy but it was a bit of a disappointment I suppose. Not where I wanted to finish after a good run over the last few days but that’s the way these things go.”
Australia’s Cameron Smith recorded his lowest round of the week of 67 to finish fifth at 15-under par. Playing in the final group, the 18-year-old scored back-to-back birdies on holes 8 and 9 to put him within touching distance of the leaders.
The strongest field ever in the event’s history saw 23 players finish under part and a top ten made up of five different nationalities, with Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia represented. A total of 120 players from 35 countries began the week with television coverage broadcast in 150 countries.
The fourth Asian Amateur Championship will be staged at Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi, southeast of Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok, from November 1 – 4, 2012.