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Golf: Singh of India Wins China Open
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India's Jeev Milkha Singh claimed his first victory in several years in Beijing yesterday by winning the US$1.8 million Volvo China Open by just one shot over Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

The 34-year-old Indian carded a two-under-par 70 around the Nick Faldo-designed course at Beijing's Honghua International Golf Club to finish 10 under for the tournament.

Singh's victory - his first since the 1999 Lexus International in Thailand - earned him a cheque for US$300,000. Fernandez, who also shot a final round 70 to finish nine under earned US$200,000.

The challenge from Singh's playing partner, overnight leader David Lynn, collapsed when the Englishman, who had been putting excellently all week, three-putted the 13th, 14th and 15th.

Lynn's level-par 72 left him in third place at eight under for the joint Asian and European Tour event.

Defending champion Paul Casey and fellow Englishman, Simon Wakefield, finished a shot further back in fourth place alongside Australians Jarrod Lyle and Peter Fowler.

Singh, who started the day a shot behind Lynn after earlier rounds of 72, 69 and 67, said he was delighted to have broken his victory drought.

Singh, a four-time winner on the Asian Tour and son of Olympic sprinter Milkha Singh, bogeyed the opening 417-yard hole to fall back to seven under for the tournament.

Birdies on the third, fifth and seventh holes saw him hit the turn in 34, two under for the day and a shot ahead of Lynn.

Coming back, the Indian did exceptionally well not to drop a shot - and to keep his composure - on the tough 596-yard 11th when his ball was pocketed by a spectator after it found the rough. Fortunately, he was allowed to replace it without penalty and managed to salvage a par.

Lynn's challenge effectively ended with the second of his run of three-putts on the 533-yard 14th, where Singh made a birdie to the Englishman's par.

At that point, only the 25-year-old Fernandez looked as though he had any chance of catching the Indian. But the Spaniard bogeyed the 465-yard 18th, meaning that Singh, who also carded a five, was home safely.

Casey, who started the day two shots off the pace, had looked as though he might become the first ever player to defend the title, making birdies on the third and fifth. But three bogeys in his next six holes derailed him.

"I wouldn't say the putting wasn't on because I just don't think anything was on today," said the 28-year-old member of Europe's victorious 2004 Ryder Cup team.

"After yesterday's wind I found it difficult with the swing and that was that," he said. "I couldn't hit the golf ball to where I wanted to. Clearly looking at the scores I wasn't swinging it very well and that shows on the card."

Thailand's Prayad Marksaeng, who was tied with Singh going into the final round, also had a day to forget, carding a 75 to finish 10th at five under for the tournament alongside Sweden's Peter Hanson.

Three birdies, a bogey and a double bogey on the outward nine kept the 35-year-old Thai in contention but the rot set in on the 158-yard 12th when he hit the water. His double bogey there was followed by another dropped shot on the next and another bogey on the 15th.

Wang Ter-chang of Chinese Taipei finished in eighth spot to top the four Chinese who entered the last day's play. Mainland player, Li Chao, ended in 54th spot.

Off the course, the China Golf Association and Volvo are to continue their partnership in staging the Open Championship of China until 2015, according to an agreement struck at the weekend.

And next year's total prize fund for the Volvo China Open, which returns to Shanghai Silport Golf Club, will increase to US$2 million--a jump of US$200,000 from this week's prize pot, said Volvo Event Management President and CEO, Mel Pyatt.

This means that the prize money has grown by a staggering 500 per cent since the championship's inaugural year in 1995.

"In principle we've reached an agreement with the CGA to stage the Volvo China Open till 2015 which is a six year extension to our existing contract which ends in 2009," said Pyatt.

"We are very excited with the future of this great championship and we are committed to staying the course and making the Open Championship of China a major event in world golf over the next decade."

Volvo's commitment to golf in China includes grassroots development. It has an existing sponsorship agreement with the CGA till 2009 to stage the Volvo China Junior Golf Championship, which Pyatt hopes will breed future champions at its flagship tournament.

"Our partnership with golf in China has been tremendous," he said. "The early days were pioneering days and it was clearly focused around a brand rather than a commercial strategy. Now, we realise that we have been absolutely right with the growth of golf as it is now with China.

"Golf is growing in China, our Open championship is growing and so is the commercial growth of the Volvo Group in this country. Its is a perfect fit," said Pyatt.

(China Daily April 17, 2006)

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