AFTER spending much of the year working in a friend’s wine shop, an emotional Kim Felton became OneAsia’s first Australian champion of the year with a two-stroke victory at the US$1 million Midea China Classic.
A six-time winner in Australia and a former Nationwide Tour regular, Felton shot a stunning six-under-par 65 for a 12-under total of 272, two ahead of Scotland’s Simon Yates who carded a 67 at Royal Orchid International Golf Club in Shunde, south of Guangzhou.
Andre Stolz (69), a former PGA Tour winner, and fellow Australian Mitchell Brown (71) shared third at eight-under. Young Korean Bang Doo-hwan (70), former PGA Tour regular Stephen Allan (72) and third-round leader Stephen Dartnall (74) tied for fifth at seven-under.
Defending champion Liang Wenchong of China battled to a 69 as the three-time OneAsia winner tied for eighth on five-under.
The day belonged to Felton, who had shot into contention with a third-round 66 that left him four off the pace. On the final day, the tall Aussie ran off four pars before lighting up the 6,893-yard Nick Faldo layout with seven birdies on the next 12 holes, offset by a solitary bogey on 10.
“I’m shattered. I’m sort of numb. I was using muscles and nerves out there I hadn’t used for a long time,” said the Perth-based 35-year-old, who won US$180,000 for his biggest title to date.
“It has been a tough couple of years and a lot of hard work, so it’s just great to turn it around. The main feeling is relief, believing that you can win again.”
The highlight of the round was a 45-foot birdie putt on 16 to pull three clear of Yates, who drew within two again with a birdie at 17.
Felton won the last of his six Von Nida Tour titles at the 2007 Victoria Open and won the 2005 Knoxville Open during his first season on the Nationwide Tour, where he played much of his golf until last year.
After a loss of form and enthusiasm, Felton decided to take a break from competitive golf and returned home last April.
“From February till about three weeks ago, I’ve been working in a mate’s wine shop and hitting balls for several hours a day. It was a good plan that allowed me to practise and rediscover my love for the game,” he said.
OneAsia’s final events of the year are the Australian Open at The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney from December 2-5 and the Australian PGA Championship at the Hyatt Regency Coolum from December 9-12.