Golf: Rookie Natipong clinches Manila Masters in thrilling style

MANILA (AFP) - Thailand's Natipong Srithong hit a brilliant five-under-par 67 to claim the Manila Masters in thrilling style on Sunday, becoming the second Thai newcomer to win in successive weeks on golf's Asian Tour.

The 22-year-old, who only turned professional in September, carded a 15-under-par 273 overall score at the par-72 Manila Southwoods Golf and Country Club after overcoming a four-shot deficit in the final round.

Natipong finished one shot ahead of South Africa's Jbe Kruger - who closed with a 71 - while overnight leader Hung Chien-yao of Chinese Taipei, who sank a hole-in-one, was two shots behind alongside compatriot Lee Chieh-po.

The winner of what is the richest golf event in the Philippines, a final-year law undergraduate, earned US$180,000 (S$255,000) for his remarkable victory, emulating close friend and fellow rookie Danthai Boonma, who won in Singapore last week.

"Seeing Danthai winning last week was an inspiration," said Natipong, who made crucial birdies on the 12th, 15th and 17th to emerge triumphant.

"He was my roommate the past two weeks and after he won, he said it will be my turn soon. I didn't expect it to be so soon," added Natipong in comments supplied by the organisers.

Overnight leader Hung endured a torrid start, dropping four shots in six holes before he staged a fightback with a magical hole-in-one on the 13th with a finely struck two iron tee shot. But despite his heroics, he only managed to card 73 on his final round.

Defending champion Mardan Mamat of Singapore missed the halfway cut off 144 by two strokes, as did his compatriot Lam Chih Bing (149).