| Mike Cunning of the US after winning the Indian Open in New Delhi Sunday. (PTI)
New Delhi: Mike Cunning of the United States created history by winning the $300,000 Royal Challenge Indian Open golf championship, his maiden victory on the Asian PGA Tour, with a record 18-under 270 at the Delhi Golf Club course on Sunday.
It turned out to be a runaway victory for the 45-year-old American as the runner-up, Rick Gibson of Canada, also the second best in the previous edition, was five strokes behind at 205.
The Indian challenge fizzled out with current Asian Order of Merit leader and overnight sole leader Jyoti Randhawa finishing a joint sixth along with Arjun Atwal at 10-under 278.
Coming into the final round with 10-under, Cunning got off to a great start — three birdies in a row. He never looked back, finishing with three birdies on the trot on the 13th, 14th and 15th and another two on the 17th and the 18th to card an amazing final day score of eight-under 64.
Cunning dropped two shots on the front nine but his scores on the back nine were absolutely without blemish.
“So many times I have entered a Sunday with good scores behind me but walked off without the title. But today was one of those days when I actually did win,” said Cunning, pocketed a cheque of Rs 24,50,000.
Gibson said he “was not really disappointed” to finish runner up for the second time in a row but admitted “it does leave an empty feeling as everyone wants the title at the end of the day”.
“I could have made a few more putts but then anybody can say that,” the Canadian said.
Australia’s Adam Groom (276) and South African James Kingston finished tied third, while Zaw Moe of Myanmar, who set a course record with a nine-under card on the opening day, had to be content with the fifth place on the leaderboard with a four-round aggregate of 277.
Kingston had an amazing albatross on the 8th hole as he shot into lead along with Cunning at 14-under but luck deserted him thereafter and he went birdie-less on the remaining 10 holes. This was Kingston’s third albatross in three years, a marvellous record by any standards.
“I used a driver for my tee shot and a six iron for the second which pitched 15 feet short, rolled up, stopped at the lip and dropped in,” Kingston (69) said of his albatross. “I knew I was in the lead after the albatross but could not convert the advantage.”
The DGC course is a treacherous one and the golfers learnt this all over again on Sunday.
The Indian golfers have been nursed on this course but still find it difficult to negotiate.
With Vijay Kumar winning the coveted title last year and the big two — Jyoti Randhawa and Arjun Atwal — showing ample promise, it was largely felt an Indian would win the country’s most prestigious event this time around too but fate willed otherwise.
Randhawa made an ominous prediction Saturday after he finished the third round one stroke ahead, saying “one hole can change the whole scenario”.
How true it rang for him as he found himself trailing Cunning by a big four-stroke margin at the eighth when he dropped his second shot on the front nine. It was virtually all over for him after he had bogeys on the 10th and 11th to finish at 74.
Digvijay Singh, the other Indian in contention for the top honours, finished joint 10th alongwith Craig Kamps of South Africa, with a tournament aggregate of eight-under 280.
Digvijay started the day with a par but bogeyed the next hole. He picked up strokes on the sixth and eighth holes but dropped one on 11th to level-par for the day, thereby failing to improve upon his performance last year — a 10th place finish!
“My putting let me down today,” said a dejected Digvijay.
Cunning had a little “heartbreak” en route to his sizzling Day Four card. He missed winning the Mercedes Benz — the prize for the first hole-in-one on the last two rounds — by a whisker on the fifth hole.
Playing in the leadergroup, Cunning’s iron fell short of the hole and died off to the left, finishing a foot and a half from the hole.
Chandigarh’s Harinder Gupta won the amateur title. He carded a par 72 on Sunday following two brilliant opening rounds of two-under-par 70 and a 74 Saturday to take his total to level-par 288.