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How neighbour Tiger got Atwal into game
- ‘He called me and told me I was in’
Arjun Atwal and Tiger Woods

July 2: Calcutta boy Arjun Atwal has a phone call from a neighbour to thank for his showing at the AT&T National golf tournament in Pennsylvania, where he shared the lead with two others after yesterday’s first round.

Not a neighbour in the Bengal capital, where the 37-year-old lived for years and learnt his golf, but one in Isleworth, Florida. A man who goes by the name of Tiger Woods and who used his clout with the tournament sponsors to earn Atwal the right to play the event, a limited field tourney with a $6 million purse.

Woods and Atwal have known each other well for years — they have regularly practised together at Isleworth since the Indian moved into the neighbourhood in 2005.

“They get along very well. Their discussions are generally based on their game — the grass on the course, their putting…. The understanding has grown over the years,” Atwal’s father Bindi told The Telegraph from Orlando.

The two golfer friends had been discussing schedules two weeks ago at the US Open when Woods asked why Atwal was not playing in the AT&T. Atwal, who has won 10 times around the world and played in more than 100 PGA Tour events, said he did not have the status to get in.

Woods pressed him and asked if he had written a letter to the tournament asking for an “exemption” — an arrangement under which the title sponsor of a PGA Tour event can allow a few players into the tournament.

When Atwal said “No”, Woods said he would try to get him in the tournament if one of the players with an exemption decided not to play.

“And then he called me last week and told me I was in,” Atwal said.

On Thursday, the Indian outshone his more famous practice-round partner, shooting a four-under-par 66 to tie for the lead at Aronimink Golf Club. Woods, the defending champion, struggled with his putting and finished at three-over-par 73, tied for 81st in the 120-player field.

“Arjun did call yesterday,” Bindi said. “He has been hitting the ball very well; He’s got his swing back and that’s encouraging.”

Atwal, the first Indian golfer to win a European Tour Order of Merit event, said he was surprised at his showing in Pennsylvania after his poor form last week in Cromwell, Connecticut, where he had hit the ball “really bad” and finished tied for 64th.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Atwal, who had injured his shoulders earlier this year. “But it was a bit of a surprise.”

Atwal said he no longer engaged in the futility of trying to compare his game to Woods’s, and that the American had helped him out whenever he asked.

“If I have any questions about the short game or whatever it is,” Atwal said, “he’s always been there.”

Bindi said it was the American champion’s down-to-earth nature that struck him the most, and recalled meeting Woods over lunch during this year’s US Open.

“I invited Tiger to come to India. He promptly turned towards Arjun and said, ‘Ask him’. Arjun promptly quipped that in that case, his popularity back home would be threatened and we all shared a good laugh.”

On Thursday, Atwal holed a key 15-footer on the last hole, a stroke that would probably have clipped Woods for a few dollars in a practice round, assuming the two play for money.

Asked if they play for anything, Atwal demurred. “No comment,” he said, smiling. “All I can say is I owe him a little bit right now.”

If he keeps playing the way he started, he will have plenty of cash to pay up.

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