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Gaurav Ghei wins second Asian Tour crown

October 01, 2006 19:49 IST

Gaurav Ghei turned the clock back with a brilliant final round at the Mercuries Masters to win his second Asian Tour golf title after a gap of 11 years.

Ghei's first and only Asian Tour title before this came at the 1995 Gadgil Western Masters with the most-talked about chip-in for eagle on the 72nd hole.

With almost 20 top-10 finishes in the period since, including a close second at the Hero Honda Indian Open last year, Ghei finally ended his wait for the second title with a brilliant six-under 66 that saw him register a great victory that was the third for Indian professional golf in last 10 months, after Shiv Kapur, at the Volvo Masters of Asia in December 2005, and Jeev Milkha Singh, at the Volvo China Open in April this year.

Ghei's immediate reaction was one of relief.

"This was great and came after such a long time. I have had ups and downs, some injuries a couple of years back and some other problems, but now I have been playing well. So, it is nice to have won this one.

"It has been 11 years since I won and the way I played in the last two days without dropping a shot, it is just fantastic. This is all going to take a while to sink in," said Ghei, who also made a giant leap to 10 places on the Asian Tour's UBS Order of Merit, with earnings of US $218,000.

In 1995 Ghei had finished fifth on the Money List but with just under US $125,000.

"I had a great start and was five under on the front and I told myself to play well and keep it on the fairway."

The likeable Ghei, now a senior player in the Indian contingent, spared a thought for the unlucky SSP Chowrasia, when he said, "It's been a crazy week. My thoughts go out to Chowrasia, who was disqualified for not signing his scorecard while leading by five shots after two rounds but at the same time I'm very happy to have won after a long time.

"The key hole for me is probably the par save at the 10th hole. I struck it of the tee and the ball landed in the bunker around six feet away from the pin. The second shot was awesome as the ball landed right next to the cup and I putted for par," he added.

The victory also opens a lot of doors for Ghei, who gets to play in the elite company of Tiger Woods and others at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai in November, where there will be at least two other Indians, Kapur and Jeev Milkha Singh, as other winners since last edition of the tournament.

Ghei, who turned 38 last week on September 25, has always been a dangerous customer on Indian courses, particularly in the final round, and more so if the tournament is at the Delhi Golf Club, which is his home course.

Considered a trail-blazer of sorts in Indian golf, Ghei was a prodigy in Indian golf when he started coming up in the mid and late 1980s. The Delhi boy won a lot of junior events and then, in 1990, he represented India at the Asian Games in Beijing alongside Jeev. He also represented India in the Asian Games and Nomura Cup.

Winner of numerous amateur titles across India, he turned pro in 1991 and one of his early international wins came at the Desaru Classic in Malaysia and the Asia Nations Cup in 1999 in Malaysia, where he was first, individually.

In 1995, when he won the Gadgil Western Masters, his winning cheque of US $80,750 was the single largest cheque for an Indian sportsperson.

A year later, in the company of Jeev and Ali Sher, he formed the Indian team that stunned Scotland, which included Colin Montgomerie and Andrew Coltart, 2-1 in the Dunhill Cup, which Scotland nevertheless went on to win.

In 1997, Ghei became the first Indian to qualify for the British Open after shooting a two-day score of 135 to finish second in his qualifying venue and earn a place in the starting line-up at Royal Troon.

The run continued as Ghei came within a whisker of winning the inaugural 1997 Hero Honda Masters at the Delhi Golf Club. He was third in the 2000 Myanmar Open and Wills Indian Open and joint fifth in the 2000 Macau Open.

Then injuries took over. He had bad seasons in 2001 and 2003, but in between he was in early 2002 he was tied ninth at the Hero Honda Masters and was joint 10th at the European Tour-sanctioned Caltex Singapore Masters.

But it was only in 2004, that Ghei started getting back to the form of old. He enjoyed two successive top-10s at the Mercuries Taiwan Masters and Taiwan Open, which he finished joint third and tied ninth. He showed a welcome return to form in 2005, a second place finish in the Hero Honda Indian Open being his best finish. This year he finished tied fifth in the TCL Classic in China and joint ninth in the Aamby Valley Asian Masters on home soil.

There is one very interesting story about the affable Ghei. When he was about to get married to Miti, her family is believed to have asked him what he did for a living. When he said, 'Play professional golf', they are said to have asked again, 'You play golf alright, but what do you do for a living?'.

It took sometime for Ghei to make them understand that playing professional golf was in itself a way to make a livelihood. In the years since, the doubts have been erased and today's cheque of US $100,000 will add nicely to the celebrations.

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