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Niemann's major motivation after Australian Open win

3 minute read

Chile's Joaquin Niemann has beaten Japan's Rikuya Hoshino in a playoff to win a dramatic Australian Open in Sydney after three local hopes suffered heartbreak.

MINJEE LEE. Picture: Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

Chilean LIV Golf rebel Joaquin Niemann is relishing the chance to compete for one of the sport's greatest prizes again after denying nearly-man Rikuya Hoshino in one of the most extraordinary Australian Open finales in years.

Niemann cashed in with an eagle three at the second extra sudden-death playoff hole after a trio of big-name local hopes let the coveted Stonehaven Cup slip during a wild final round in Sydney.

Starting the day four shots behind, Niemann - who plays in Greg Norman's Saudi-backed breakaway league after defecting from the PGA Tour - stormed home with a final-round five-under-par 66.

Hoshino closed with a 70 to make the playoff at 14 under but wound up second for the second Sunday running, having last week finished three shots behind emerging superstar Min Woo Loo at the Australian PGA.

Lee will rue not saluting again in front of his growing legion of home fans after entering the final round as co-leader with Hoshino and in the form of his life.

Former world No.1 Adam Scott and fellow Australian US PGA Tour star Lucas Herbert also had one hand on the famous trophy during Sunday's round.

But all three fan favourites suffered heartbreak, as did Lee's superstar sister Minjee, who had to settle for the runner-up prize in the women's Open after South African Ashleigh Buhai defended her title with a thrilling one-shot victory.

While Lee relinquished his lead early, Scott and Herbert had turns at looking like winners down the stretch, only to falter in incredible fashion.

In the space of seven depressing minutes for Australian golf fans, both suffered triple-bogey sevens to see their hopes vanish.

From 14 under and outright leader with three holes to play, Scott - who started his round on the 10th - drove out of bounds on the par-4 seventh.

After returning to the tee, he couldn't make par with his second ball and suddenly tumbled to 11 under.

"I think if it was the last hole, I might have stormed off," Scott said after adding his tie for fourth - three shots out of the playoff - to a trio of runner-up finishes since his sole Australian Open win in 2009.

Moments after Scott's mishap, Herbert, also at 14 under, found the trees on the ninth and recorded his own gut-wrenching triple-bogey. He never recovered.

"It was super frustrating because you'd hit decent shots and get punished," Herbert said of the gruelling last-day conditions.

"I didn't do a lot wrong. I missed a short putt, I blinked and made triple. It's hard to see your name fall out of the lead like that."

As much as Scott's and Herbert's crashes hurt, Lee will likely rue the one that got away most.

Bidding to join an elite group of only six players, including legends Greg Norman (1985), Peter Thomson (1967) and Kel Nagel (1959) to have completed the Australian PGA and Open double, the 25-year-old may never have a better chance.

But the West Australian was philosophical about falling two shots short of at least making the playoff with his closing 72.

"The putts didn't go my way and I didn't hit it well enough," Lee said.

"But it's been a good year and I'm pretty proud of the way I've finished."

New champ Niemann was also proud, after joining greats including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Norman Von Nida, Peter Thomson, Tom Watson and Norman on the honour roll.

But after being denied rankings points while playing LIV, he's cherishing the chance to play at Royal Troon next July after booking a ticket to the 2024 British Open with Sunday's win.

"I'm still not sure if I'm going to play the (other) majors. I know for sure I'm playing the Open, which is nice," he said.

"It is unfortunate. I think I should be playing those tournaments. I know I have a game to win one of the majors."

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