May 13, 2018

Korean Todd Baek comes from behind to win Haikou Championship

HAIKOU, HAINAN, CHINA—Korean Todd Baek won his second PGA TOUR Series-China title with a come-from-behind victory at the weather-affected Haikou Championship, which was reduced to 54 holes. 

Baek started the third and final round at Sunac Haikou 3KM Golf two shots behind American Charlie Saxon and shot a closing 5-under 67 for a 10-under total of 206, two ahead of three-time winner Saxon (71) and Canada’s Justin Shin (67), also a former winner on the Tour.

American Trevor Sluman (72), who started the day one behind Saxon, finished fourth at 6-under, one ahead of Japan’s Hidetomo Sato (69), while China’s Hongfu Wu (70) and Hong Kong’s Motin Yeung (70) shared sixth place at 4-under.

China’s Daxing Jin (73) bogeyed the last two holes to drop back into a share of eighth at 3-under with English duo Callum Tarren (73) and Stephen Lewton (74), and American Charlie Netzel (71).

Baek, 26, shot an opening 65 to lead after a weather-delayed first round finished on Friday, then immediately played his second round, with a 74 putting him in the penultimate group on Sunday.

The burly Korean started well, with birdies on Nos. 1, 3 and 7 offset by a bogey on the second, although Shin was even hotter on the front nine, with five birdies, but couldn't pick up any more shots on the back where he racked up nine straight pars.

Saxon, though, remained in pole position after the front nine, where three birdies put him 10-under, but bogeyed Nos. 13 and 17 on the way home.

Baek carried his form into the second nine, bagging further birdies on Nos. 10, 13 and the par-5 18th to set a target no one could match, with Saxon only able to secure a par on the last when he needed an eagle to force a playoff.

For Baek, it was a welcome return to winning ways, having won the Chateau Junding Penglai Open in Yantai in the Tour’s inaugural season in 2014 and finished fifth on the Order of Merit to earn status on the Tour, where he played full seasons in 2015 and 2016

“I feel great. I played well all week,” said Baek. “It feels great as it’s been a while since my last win, which was on this Tour in 2014. I’m looking forward to playing the rest of the year here.”

After only playing one hole on Thursday, when play was stopped at 12.20pm, Baek played almost two rounds in the tropical heat on Friday, and didn’t play at all on Saturday.

“I played 35 holes on Friday which was very tough in this heat, got up to almost 40, 41 degrees, so I drank a lot of water, and tried to stay as cool as possible. It was very hard, but everyone had the same conditions.”

Saxon, 25, was disappointed not to capitalise on a two-shot lead going into the back nine, but admitted he was delighted with form that has now propelled him to the top of the Order of Merit.

“I didn’t quite do what I needed to do on the back nine and Todd played really well. He capitalised on me not going further under par and congrats to him; he was the better man today,” said Saxon, who finished second on the 2016 Order of Merit and played on last year’s Tour.

“It’s great being in contention. That’s what we play for, that’s what we practice for, although it sucks not being able to finish the deal. I was coming in wanting to win, but can’t win them all, so I’ll learn from it, learn what I can do better the next time I’m in contention and I’ll end up winning.”

Shin, 26, is another former winner on Tour, capturing the United Investment Real Estate Wuhan Open in 2015. The Canadian believes the result in Haikou is a turning point for him as he bids to return to the Tour, where he had full status last year.

“I’m finally playing better now after struggling the last year so it’s great to be in the top five this week. It’s a good start for me for this year, so we’ll see how it goes for the next few events,” said Shin.

“I’m looking forward to it and I hope to have more events like this. Hopefully I can get a win this year – that’s my goal. My last win was in 2015 so I’m looking forward to having another win.”