Caltex Singapore Masters
Caltex Singapore Masters
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Zhang wins as Els bogies final hole

Ernie Els, bidding for his fourth successive tournament victory, was foiled on the last green by China's Zhang Lian Wei at the Singapore Masters on Sunday.

The 38-year-old Zhang triumphed by one shot to become the first Chinese ever to win an event on the European Tour.

Els arrived at the 18th one stroke clear only to make bogey after a poor first shot found trees. In the sweltering heat, Zhang kept cool and birdied from about four feet to close with a two-under-par 70 for a 10-under total of 278.

Els, who putted poorly on the back nine, shot a one-over 73 for 279. Third place went to Thailand's Prayad Marksaeng who fired a 71 for a total of 280.

World number two Els came to Singapore in red-hot form after back-to-back victories in his first two tournaments of 2003 and the Sun City Challenge in December.

But Zhang hung in, shrugged off a bogey at the 17th and proved a worthy winner.

He said: "I thought my chance was gone when I made bogey on the 17th. But when Els hit his tee shot into the trees on the 18th, I told myself 'Its now or never.'

"I kept my tee shot close to the water and then again took a risk to hit my second as close to the pin as possible. In the end it all worked out perfectly for me.

"To be honest, I was more nervous when Els was playing his shot on the final hole because I knew he is world number two and can hit out of trouble. But when he made bogey, I was sure of my putt and made it without any problem."

Zhang plans to split his time between the European and Japanese Tours but has yet to work out his schedule.

A former javelin thrower, Zhang has some big scalps to his name, including Zimbabwe's Nick Price in last year's Macau Open where he retained his title, and Scotland's Colin Montgomerie in the Dunhill Cup.

Zhang, whose victory gains him an exemption on the European Tour, is set to take next weekend off to celebrate the Chinese lunar New Year at home in Guangdong province before heading off to Perth, Australia, for the Johnnie Walker Classic.

Els had begun the final round two strokes ahead of the Chinese and increased his lead by one with a birdie on the second hole.

Zhang hit back with birdies on the third and fourth to trail by just one. Both players then birdied the par-five seventh but Els made a bogey on the par-three eighth and it was generally level pegging thereafter.

The pair again dropped a stroke each on the par-five 11th but Els regained the lead with a birdie on the next. However, the South African found the going tough from there and a bogey on the par four 14th, where he hree-putted from about 12 feet, put the duo on level terms going into the final four holes.

Following pars on the next two, Zhang mis-hit his tee-shot on the par-three 17th and dropped a stroke.

But it was Els's turn to mis-hit his tee shot on the final hole and Zhang pounced on the opportunity with some aggressive play to set up the birdie chance and sink the putt.

Els missed his par putt from six feet and the title slipped out of his grasp.

He told reporters: "I felt okay playing from tee to green today but did not putt well at all.

"My pace on the greens was off again. I found the greens a lot quicker than before and the heat eventually got to me a little. After the 15th it was a struggle to finish."

Els added: "My main problem today was that I was reading the putt all wrong. I even hit through the break on some.

"It is obviously disappointing to lose like this but it has happened before and will happen again."

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