| Arjun Atwal in action during the Hero Honda Masters in New Delhi on Sunday. (PTI)
Calcutta: Arjun Atwal of Calcutta Sunday became the first million-dollar man of the Asian PGA Tour when he won the $ 300,000 Hero Honda Masters on a stroke’s lead from Jyoti Randhawa over the par-72 Delhi Golf Club.
On a final day that contained more twists and turns than a Hitchcock thriller, the 31-year-old pro closed with a one-under 71 to aggregate seven-under 281 for the meet. That beat the aggregate of Jyoti Randhawa, Pablo del Olmo of Mexico and Gary Rusnak of the US by a stroke, according to information reaching here.
The victory earned him $ 48,450 to take his career earnings to $ 1,016,352. He could have crossed the million-dollar mark even if had finished second, but this is a bonus.
The win also virtually seals Atwal’s bid to win the Asian PGA Tour Order of Merit crown in 2003. He now leads second placed Zhang Lian-wei of China by over $ 126,000 with four events to go this season.
On a day when lead changed hands like a yo-yo as winds added to the tough course conditions, overnight leader Digvijay Singh failed in his bid to secure his maiden Asian PGA Tour title and finished tied tenth at three-under 285 following a round of 78.
Randhawa, twice winner of the tournament here, held the lead at 10-under after nine holes, before a double bogey on the 13th derailed his bid for a fifth Asian PGA Tour title.
Atwal himself went up to nine-under after a monster 50-footer eagle putt on the par-5 eighth, but fell back with bogeys on four of the next five holes.
However, the only Asian to win twice on the European Tour, forced himself back into contention with birdies on the 14th and 17th, where he chipped-in, and a measured par putt on the 18th from 10 feet.
“Having achieved the milestone of becoming the first Asian to win a million dollars is nice, but what matters more is the fact that I have won the title. Winning here and sealing the Asian PGA Tour Order of Merit was foremost on my mind,” said Atwal.
He told The Telegraph over phone from Delhi that the victory is great in terms of “not just the money milestone (which I could have achieved even if I had finished second) but for the fact that this is an amount that is bound to set young golfers in the country dreaming.
“I hope this win sets more young ones on the route to pro golf,” he said. “It’s good to know that you can win such amounts from the Asian Tour alone. Overall I have won much more (I don’t exactly know how much), but this year I have already won over 300,000 euros in non-APGA meets.”
Atwal will next be over to Orlando to play the US PGA Tour Qualifying School meet to again try to get into the most prestigious and toughest Tour.
[Incidentally, Atwal said when he was in the US earlier and when Leandere Paes had been ill with the brain lesion, he had tried to call to enquire after his health. “I couldn’t get though then,” said Atwal, “but this time I guess I will make some time to make a call and then we’ll see if we can meet up.”]
About his play, he said: “It is perhaps the first time that my ball striking has been so bad en route to a title. Today, though I putted well and I saved a number of strokes. I had started at around 12 noon, and at a little after 5pm, as I stood over the par putt on the 18th, knowing I had to make the putt. I had little doubt in my mind that I’ll make it.”
Randhawa could have forced a playoff but his 10-footer putt on the 18th lipped out. “I did not putt well enough. The conditions were tough today and Arjun tackled them the best. He deserved to win,” said Randhawa who went out in three-under, but was four-over on the back nine with bogeys on the 10th and 15th, and a double on the 13th.
(Indian unless stated)
281 — Arjun Atwal (69,71,70,71); 282 — Pablo del Olmo (Mex) (68,74,72,68), Gary Rusnak (USA) (73,71,65,73), Jyoti Randhawa (71,70,68,73); 283 — Kim Felton (Aus) (77,68,69,69), Rafiq Ali (71,70,71,71), Unho Park (Aus) (72,70,69,72); 284 — Simon Yates (Sco) (73,69,73,69), Jeev Milkha Singh (66,72,73,74); 285 — Mukesh Kumar (73,69,72,71), Rafael Ponce (Ecu) (74,69,67,75), Digvijay Singh (71,68,68).