Alexander Levy clinched the fourth European Tour title of his career by beating overnight leader Dylan Frittelli in a play-off at the RMB 20 million Volvo China Open in Haiurou, Beijing.
With Levy in the clubhouse, Frittelli would have won in regulation with a birdie on the last but a disappointing par by the South African meant the two went back to the par-five 18th for a play-off with Levy taking the title thanks to a birdie four that Frittelli was unable to match.
For Levy, who carded a final round 67 (-5) to Frittelli’s 74 (+2) to finish on 17-under par, it meant a repeat of his 2014 Volvo China Open win making him the first two-time champion in the event’s 23-year history. Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal took third place one shot behind on 16-under.
“It’s fantastic – I’m really happy as the 2014 Volvo China Open was when I got my first win on the tour so the event means a lot to me and I enjoy playing in China,” said Levy.
The 26-year-old Frenchman started the day seven shots behind Frittelli and produced the biggest final round comeback by a winner in the history of the tournament. “At the start of the round I was thinking maybe top three would be a good result but when I was on the 15th green and saw I was just one shot behind… that’s when I began to believe I could win the tournament,” he said.
Despite an opening day course record 63 at the Topwin Golf and Country Club, Levy’s chance appeared to have gone when Frittelli opened up a five shot lead after the opening two holes on the final day. But six birdies in that final round 67, combined with Frittelli’s collapse, saw Levy take it to a play-off and collect the trophy and a cheque for RMB 3.333 million. It also moved him up to 11th place in The Race to Dubai standings.
“I’ve been in that position before so I know how hard it is to lose a play-off after leading for so long,” added Levy. “I haven’t had a chance to speak to Dylan but I’ll tell him he can learn from this just as I did.”
Levy got himself back into contention as Frittelli’s lead began to evaporate on the back nine. Five shots ahead of his nearest challenger with 16 holes to play, the European Challenge Tour graduate just could not find the form that brought him rounds of 63 and 64 on days two and three. Tee shots that ended up against the base of a tree on the 12th and under a rock edge on the 16th ultimately cost him three shots and summed up his day.
“It definitely stings a little bit as I let it go there at the end but I’m still proud of the way I played this week,” said the 26-year-old from Johannesburg.
“Seventeen-under par on this golf course is nothing to scoff at. I’m also proud of Alex as he played really well to come back like that. Most people probably thought I had it in the bag even with 18 holes to go but he stuck to it and played well in the play-off.
“The lead probably made it tough to get motivated. I was trying to make birdies but I just couldn’t get them to go in and had two bad breaks on the back nine – they were actually bad swings – but I’ll take the good and the bad and try to get back in contention further on in the season.”
While Frittelli worked hard to mask his disappointment, playing partner Larrazabal – who started the day three behind the leader – was far from happy with his day’s work after carding a final round level par 72.
“It’s tough to describe when your opponent opens the door so many times for you and you can’t step through,” he said. “Nothing was going my way today and although I tried my best you can’t win tournaments with a level par. You have to make five or six birdies on the Sunday to win a golf tournament and I didn’t do that.”
Although England’s Chris Wood and Bernd Wiesberger of Austria also tried to rein in Frittelli’s advantage, rounds of 68 and 67 respectively were not enough leaving the pair tied for fourth place on fifteen-under.
Best performance of the week from home-grown talent came in the shape of 21-year-old Li Haotong who made a spirited defence of the Volvo China Open title he won in 2016 finishing with a 70 (-2) for a share of 11th place on eleven under.
Other notable Chinese performances came from Cao Yi and Wu Ashun who tied for 24th on eight-under and 16-year-old amateur Ye Wo-cheng on two-under par (tied 59th).