Seongnam, Korea: Korea’s Taehee Lee successfully retained the trophy on home soil after prevailing on the third extra hole to complete a wire-to-wire victory and claim his first Asian Tour title at The 38th GS Caltex Maekyung Open Golf Championship on Sunday.
Lee, who shared the overnight four-shot lead with Finland’s Janne Kaske, was locked in a tight battle with the Finnish throughout the day as they closed with matching even-par 71s to tie on nine-under-par 275 after the end of regulation play at the Namseoul Country Club.
It was a birdie from six feet on the 75th hole that sealed the deal for Lee as Kaske was left to rue a bad break on the 18th fairway after his drive found a divot and his second shot would end up 20 yards short of the green. Kaske eventually three-putted for a double-bogey.
Lee took home a winner’s prize purse of US$266,798, thanks to his victory in the KR₩1,200,000,000 (approx. US$1,067,000) event, which is celebrating its 38th edition this week. It is his first Maekyung Open title and also his third professional victory on home soil.
The duo had made respective double-bogeys and bogeys on the first two holes of the play-off, held on the 433-yard par-four 18th hole, before officials made a rare decision to change to a relatively easier pin position on the green.
Lee got off to a quick start with two birdies in his opening four holes while Kaske reeled in four straight pars. Kaske sank his first birdie of the day on fifth to move within one before turning the table around on the seventh after holing an amazing second shot from 120 yards out for an eagle-two.
It was a three-shot swing for Kaske as he took over the two-shot lead from Lee, who dropped a shot on the same hole. Kaske would go on to drop a shot on the ninth but recovered well with a birdie on 12 after knocking his second shot from the right rough to about two-feet.
However, another bogey on the 14th saw him slip back into a share of lead again with Lee, who chipped in for birdie on the par-five hole. The duo went neck and neck coming down the stretch, both dropping shots on 16 and 17.
An errant drive from Kaske on the 72nd hole saw his second shot from the fairway bunker land just short of the green. He attempted a long putt for birdie from the fringe but the ball rolled about 30 feet past the hole. However, Kaske held his nerves and made that clutch putt to ensure his place in the sudden play-off.
Korea’s Daehyun Kim returned with the day’s best score of a 65 to take third place on 276 while last year’s winner Sanghyun Park settled three shots back in fourth following a second consecutive 69 at the storied event.
Thai star Prom Meesawat battled to a 68 to take seventh place on 280 while compatriot Phachara Khongwatmai improved his tied-12th finish last year by signing for a 73 to settle a further shot back in joint-eighth at the event, co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and the Korea Golf Association.
Did you know?
Taehee Lee trained under Korean legend Sangho Choi, a two-time winner of the Maekyung Open, at the Namseoul Country Club from 2003 to 2010.
Lee entered the week on the back of a tied-sixth place result on his domestic circuit. Also enjoyed a solid season in 2018, claiming one victory and four top-10 finishes on his domestic circuit.
Lee won the Genesis Championship in 2018 for his second professional victory. That win earned him two starts on the PGA Tour - The CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges last October and the Genesis Open in February earlier this year.
The 34-year-old Lee claimed his first career victory in 2015. He came in tied-55th at the 2018 Maekyung Open. Lee ensured that the trophy is kept on home soil following his victory. No foreigner has won the event since 2005.
Janne Kaske, who turned professional in 2011, won twice on the Asian Development Tour (ADT) in 2015. He is currently based in Bangkok, Thailand.
Off the course, Kaske is an avid guitarist. He is also a graduate of the Augusta State University, where he played in the same team alongside Patrick Reed for a semester before graduating.
Kaske would mark his best result on the Asian Tour with his runner-up finish at the 2019 Maekyung Open. His fine performance also propelled him to seventh place on the Habitat for Humanity Standings, where he would have virtually sealed his card for the 2020 season.
He notched a total of eight top-10 finishes on the ADT last year to finish in fifth place on the Order of Merit, thereby earning his playing rights on the Asian Tour for 2019.
Kaske failed to make the mark in his first attempt at the Asian Tour Qualifying School in 2012. He returned for another shot in 2015, where he would top the class in the first stage but missed the grade in the final stage. Kaske, however, started plying his trade on the ADT that year and captured two titles.
He continued to ply his trade on the ADT in 2016, 2017 and 2018 after missing consecutive attempts at the Qualifying School. A solid season on the ADT in 2018 finally earned him playing rights on the Asian Tour in 2019.
Prom Meesawat is a two-time winner on the Asian Tour. He first won in Korea in 2006 before claiming his second victory in Chinese Taipei in 2014.
He would mark his second top-10 result on the Asian Tour this season with his seventh-place finish in Korea.