TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Hiroyuki Fujita claimed the Asia-Pacific Open Golf Championship title with a brilliant final round five-under-par 66 on Sunday as overnight leader Liang Wenchong crumbled.
The 45-year-old 2012 Japan Golf Tour Order of Merit winner won the co-sanctioned Asian Tour title by two shots after signing off for a six-under total of 278 at Ibaraki Prefecture, north of Tokyo.
Fujita dropped his only shot of the round on the par-four 17th but recovered well to birdie the last and seal his 18th win on the Japan Tour ahead of Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat (67), Jason Knutzon (68) of United States and South Korean S.K. Ho (69) in tied second.
"This win is especially rewarding as it was against a top field that includes players from the Asian Tour," Fujita told reporters.
"That birdie on 18 was important as it gave me some breathing space especially with all the players chasing me down. I’m glad it was enough to give me a two-shot victory."
Starting the day four shots off Liang's lead, Fujita recorded birdies at the first, sixth and ninth before taking the lead by picking up more shots on 11 and 15 as the Chinese failed to match his previous efforts.
Liang was four-over for his first 11 holes to relinquish his lead with late birdies pushing him back up the leaderboard into a share of ninth at two-under for the 150 million Yen ($1.37 million) event after a closing 74.
Reigning Asian Tour Order of Merit winner Kiradech was delighted with his efforts on his return to the course after a six-week layoff to rest a long standing knee problem.
"I started off too slowly as I was still finding my way around. But today’s result is an indication of my ability to stage a fight back," the burly Thai said.
"My knee’s not completely healed as I still have some trouble with my swing. But it's almost 80 percent there and I’ll get better."
American Knutzon was left to rue what might have been after grabbing the lead on the 14th with an eagle three only to give both shots back with a double at the par-four 16th to extend his wait for a first Asian Tour title since 2007.
"I thought I had a chance there but had a poor finish. Hopefully things will turn the corner,” he said.
Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; editing by Amlan Chakraborty