Niemann wins Australian Open, earns Open spot

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SYDNEY — Joaquin Niemann mastered the Sydney winds to become the first Chilean winner in 119 years of the Australian Open when he beat Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino in a playoff to lift the Stonehaven Cup on Sunday.

Niemann lipped out a 4-foot eagle putt on the first playoff hole at No. 18 but made no mistake on the second, draining a slightly longer eagle attempt to add a first DP World Tour title to the two he has won on the PGA circuit.

“It means a lot,” Niemann, who also qualified for The Open, told reporters. “This season wasn’t the best for me. I wanted to play more golf. It was huge to come up here and play good golf and get a result.”

South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai retained the title in the women’s Australian Open, which was played in parallel on the same course. She held off Australia’s Minjee Lee to win by a single stroke at 9 under despite shooting a 3-over 75.

In a wild final round, Niemann shot a 5-under 66 to take the clubhouse lead. Hoshino joined him at 14 under when he completed a round of 70 some 90 minutes later.

Min Woo Lee, who beat Hoshino in a Sunday duel to win the Australian PGA Championship last week, came up short in his bid to go back-to-back after a 71 and had to settle for third place at 12 under.

Overnight storms cleared to make way for a bright, sunny morning at The Australian Golf Club, but the wind had already started building and increased in speed until it wreaked havoc with the local contenders.

Min Woo Lee, the younger brother of Minjee, and Hoshino shared the overnight lead and were expected to reprise their duel, but Adam Scott and Lucas Herbert made early charges to share the lead.

Scott, the former Masters champion, edged ahead of the leading pack with his eighth birdie at his 16th hole, but his next tee shot landed in an unplayable lie against a fence and he took a triple-bogey.

Herbert also had a triple-bogey at No. 8 to tumble out of contention, leaving Niemann and Englishman Alex Fitzpatrick, brother of 2022 U.S. Open champion Matt, top of the leaderboard at 13 under.

Niemann had flirted with disaster on his first playing of No. 18 when his tee shot went into the crowd and he had to fire an iron shot over diners before walking away with a sixth birdie.

“I didn’t know where I was hitting, I didn’t know where the water was, I didn’t know where the bunker was,” Niemann said. “As soon as I hit it, I just listened for the crowd’s reaction. Fortunately it was good.”

Buhai started the day with a three-stroke lead over former world No. 1 Shin Ji-yai, and none of her rivals was able to close the gap even after she dropped three shots on the back nine.

Minjee Lee, seven strokes back at the start of the day, got within a shot after Buhai went into the water at the 17th, but the 2022 Women’s British Open champion held her nerve to claim the title with a par putt at the last.

“I’m so proud to defend my title,” Buhai said. “I knew they had to come catch me, so I just played smart golf. Most of the crowd were supporting Minjee, but it was a lot of fun out there.”

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