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Thai Thongchai wins Malaysia Open

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (Reuters) -- Thongchai Jaidee became the first Thai to win on the European Tour, hitting a hole-in-one to help him clinch a two-shot victory in the Malaysian Open.

The 34-year-old aced the 16th hole and then birdied the last in a final round 68 for a winning total of 14-under-par 274 for the tournament, two strokes better than Australian Brad Kennedy.

The victory at the co-sanctioned event was the second in a row on the Asian Tour for Thongchai, who won the Myanmar Open last week.

Kennedy, who also finished second at this event last year, had the chance to force a playoff but sent his second shot at the last into trees from where he eventually recorded a bogey for a closing round 67 and a 12-under total of 276.

It was a good day for Thailand with Thongchai's compatriots Prayad Markseang and Chawalit Plaphol sharing third place with the best finishing European, Frenchman Thomas Levet, on 10-under.

Miguel Angel Jimenez shot a fourth-round 71 to share sixth place with Briton Andrew Marshall on eight-under, enough to send the Spaniard to the top of the European Tour's Order of Merit ahead of South African Ernie Els.

Thongchai, who earned a two-year European Tour exemption after taking out affiliate membership earlier this season, became the seventh Asian to win on the European Tour.

The former paratrooper collected a first prize cheque of $201,700 to move to fourth place on the European Order of Merit.

"This week has been very big and very exciting especially as the event has been live on TV in Thailand," he said.

"I am very, very happy to win as it was my dream for some time to win on the European Tour but now I will have to adjust to playing in Europe on the European Tour.

"I also felt very confident coming here to Malaysia after winning last week in Myanmar."

The Thai began the final round of the event on 10-under, three behind third-round leader Lee Sung-man of South Korea, after completing his third round in 64 earlier on Sunday because of Saturday's torrential rain.

Wayward shot

But the 2001 Asian number one then proceeded to drop two strokes over the outward nine before recovering to grab birdies at the 10th, 13th and 15th holes.

Then came his six iron shot at the par-three 16th, which took a couple of bounces on the green and disappeared into the cup lifting Thongchai to 13-under and three strokes clear of his nearest rival.

With a birdie at the final hole, his 30 on the back nine holes gave him a lead that proved big enough to hold off Kennedy's challenge.

The Australian looked set to force a playoff but a wayward fairway shot into trees at the last virtually ended the contest.

He recovered well, superbly finding the back of the green with his third, but his birdie attempt from 30 feet missed the hole right and Kennedy then failed to hole his par putt and was forced to settle for bogey and a round of 67.

"My tee shot stopped on a downhill lie and though I thought I hit it perfect, the shot just faded a little into the trees," he said. "But I am really pleased with the way I played this week. I was second in this event last year but too far back even though I shot a 64."

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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