As reported at Sify News
Atwal scripts history – first Indian to win on PGA Tour
2010-08-23 13:10:00 Aug 23 (IANS)
Four weeks after he lost his card, Arjun Atwal stormed back into the elite PGA Tour circle with a victory that not many would have given him a chance to achieve at the start of the week of the Wyndham Championships.
In fact, the week started rather early for Atwal as he found his way into the tournament through the Monday qualifier. Players who do not get a direct entry are required to play a qualifying round Monday to try and find a berth into the event – and he created history by becoming the first such player in 24 years to win the tournament after coming through the gruelling Monday test. Fred Wadsworth was the last to do it at the 1986 Southern Open.
Atwal sank a crunch birdie on the 72nd hole to finish the day at three-under 67 and the tournament at 20-under 260 to become the first Indian to win on the PGA Tour. Atwal took home $918,000, the highest ever in his career.
Atwal’s compatriot Jeev Milkha Singh also signed off on a positive note, carding a four-under 66 for a share of the 18th spot with a total of 14-under 266. The Chandigarh golfer’s card was studded with six birdies against a lone double bogey. It was the first time that two Indians figured in the top-20 of a PGA Tour event.
‘I don’t know if it has sunk in yet, seriously. Obviously it was a long-time dream but until it happens you just keep doubting yourself. I had my doubts despite a three-shot lead. I am so glad, I was very nervous, the most nervous I have been in all my life,’ said the 37-year-old Atwal, who was Asia No. 1 in 2003, and has won title on the Asian, European and the Nationwide Tours.
‘I have no words to describe it,’ said Atwal, who has battled a serious shoulder injury the last year. ‘I really grinded it today. I was so nervous over that putt.’
The victory at Sedgefield Country Club earned Atwal his status on the PGA Tour for the rest of this year and the next two years as well. He also gets into many of the invitational events next year, as also the Masters.
Atwal, who was the first Indian to qualify for the PGA Tour in 2004, was also the first Indian to win on the European Tour in 2002 Singapore Masters.
Daniel Chopra, whose mother is Swedish and holds a Swedish passport and is a good friend of Atwal, has twice won on the PGA Tour, but Atwal is the first Indian-born player to do so.
Left stranded in the waiting room at 19-under was seasoned David Toms, who earlier charged up the leaderboard to take the clubhouse lead.
Yet despite the win, Atwal will not be in the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedExCup beginning next week because his temporary Tour membership from a minor medical extension expired after he failed to earn enough money at the end of the Canadian Open. But now with this win he gets an exemption on the Tour for next two years. Locking up a TOUR card for the next couple of years will more than make up for it, though.
Atwal, who held at least part of the lead on each of the first three days – he held outright lead on first and third days and shared after the second – started the day with a three-shot lead.
The leaderboard itself kept changing and Atwal admitted to having a look at it more than once. At one point very briefly, though, seven guys shared the top spot on the leaderboard Sunday. Atwal, though, made just one bogey Sunday and two over his final two rounds.
A close friend of Tiger Woods, who kept texting him through the week, indicated that 21-under could be the winning score, Atwal said, ‘My swing wasn’t feeling great but I just grinded it out and got it done somehow.’
Atwal picked up shots on the third and fourth holes to be two-under at the turn. On his way back, he added another two birdies on the 14th and 16th but a bogey on the 12th prevented him from going 21-under.
‘My goal was to get it to 21-under today. I came up one short. Actually that’s the number my friend Tiger Woods also told me to get to last night,’ he said. ‘It’s all text, we never talk. He’s busy I guess,’ Atwal quipped.
So sound was Atwal’s play through the week that he was also in the top three in the field in driving and putting for the week. He needed just 28 putts on Sunday.
Normally, very cool, Atwal admitted to nerves. ‘The leaderboard just kept changing. Everybody was tied for the lead at certain point. I knew the guys were going to shoot low today. My heart rate was over 150 at the last hole but my caddie told me to relax. I just calmed myself down,’ he said.
‘My mind is a little scrambled right now. The only thing I remember about the week is that after the Monday qualifiers,
I told my caddie that we have got nothing to lose. I don’t have a card anymore,’ he recalled.
‘Guys are going to be out there trying to secure their FedExCup spots or whatever. We’ve got nothing. I don’t have a card. I don’t have anything. Just go out there and free-wheel it, and that’s what I did this week,’ he added.
The turnaround comes after a lost card, which followed shoulder injuries caused by lifting weights in the gym. But on Sunday, all he lifted was his game and the trophy that went with the winner’s cheque.
You do us proud.
Congratulations – Keep the flag flying.