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Atwal misses US title by a whisker

April 05, 2005 16:15 IST

Taking the Indian golf to a new height, Arjun Atwal produced the best-ever result by an Indian on the US PGA Tour, coming within striking distance of the USD 5 million Bellsouth Classic title in Duluth, Goergia.

In a tournament redued to 54 holes because of incessant rains and bad weather, Atwal carded the tournament's best round of eight-under 64 in the third round to gatecrash into a five-man play-off, which was ultimately won by the defending Masters champion Phil Mickelson on Monday.

Atwal, who got into the main tournament rather late, lost out in the five-man play-off as he hit his approach shot into the water guarding the 18th green at the Sugarloaf golf course.

He shot one-over for the hole -- ironically he birdied that hole in his second and third rounds.

"My game has been showing progress and I am glad that I am coming close," said Atwal, who is playing the season on a conditional card, which will give him about 18 starts.

The BellSouth Classic was only his third start, and with finishes of tied 16th at AT & T Pebble Beach and then tied 26th at Chrysler Classic of Tuscon, Atwal was well on making his card for 2006.

Atwal picked up USD 330,000 cheque, the highest-ever for an Indian golfer anywhere, and it catapulted his earnings to over USD 418,000 in just three starts.

He also rises to 55th on the Money List in US Tour.

Mickelson, the tour's leading money-winner, earned USD 900,000 of the USD 5 million purse.

The organisers had to rush through the last day, playing off two tees and in three-man groups, as against the normal practise of two-ball groups.

Mickelson and Rich Beem had pars on the first playoff hole to advance to the second playoff hole along with Olazabal.

Brandt and Atwal each hit into the water that guarded the green on 18, shot over par and were eliminated.

Olazabal, Mickelson and Beem each parred the second playoff hole, the 455-yard, par 4 to send it back to 18 for the third playoff hole.

Mickelson and Beem advanced to the fourth playoff hole when each had tap-in birdies on No. 18. Then Mickelson holed a 10-foot birdie on fourth play-off hole to grab the title and head into the Masters with a win.

Atwal struggled in the first round with two double bogeys, and just three birdies in a 77. But then he fought back with six birdies and just one bogey on the second day to get into the weekend rounds, as his friend Daniel Chopra missed the cut.

In the final round, there was no indication of hisĀ  sensational round, even though he began reasonably well with birdies on 10th, 13th before dropping a shot on 14th.

He then birdied 16th and 18th to turn in three-under 33.

On the front nine of the course, he was on fire, with birdies on second, fourth, sixth and seventh and then closed with a birdie on ninth to finish at eight-under 64.

It was quite easily the most exciting card for the day, as Atwal playing well ahead of the lead groups came in at eight-under 208 to join the clubhouse leader Jose Maria-Olazabal.

His first two rounds were five-over 77 and five-under 67, which put him at even-par 144 after 36 holes.

In the final round, Atwal, went into an overdrive and played one of his finest rounds in US in two years.

"It was a great round. Things began happening on the back nine (the front nine for the course). I had a five-under 31, which shot me right up the leaderboard," said Atwal.

"I was very fortunate to dodge a few bullets and ultimately win," said Mickelson, who captured his third title of 2005.

"There were six or 10 people that could have and should have won this tournament."

It was a great end to the tournament, which had the first two and half days washed out by rain and snow and was subsequently shortened to 54 holes.

It was then lengthened by one of the biggest play-off contingents of five players in PGA Tour history. It was equal to second biggest since 1996 Buick Challenge and one less than the 1994 Byron Nelson Classic.

Scott McCarron who led by a stroke entering the final round and the 1997 and 2001 winner here, shot a 76 and was well back at 214. Defending champion Zach Johnson had a 72 and was at 213.

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