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A mosaic year ends on bright note

December 21, 2004 13:34 IST

There were birdies as well as bogeys for India's 'Big Three' on the international scene in 2004. The year also saw emergence of a new breed in youngsters like Rahil Gangjee and Ashok Kumar.

Jyoti Randhawa, Arjun Atwal and Jeev Milkha Singh may not have enjoyed great success but they ensured once again that India continued to stir the consciousness of the world.

The highlight of the year was Randhawa breaking his title drought -- he was winless since September 2003 -- with a victory in the season-ending Volvo Masters in Kuala Lumpur.

When the 32-year-old pro sank a 15-foot birdie on the second playoff hole, he not only pocketed USD 99,000 but also leapfrogged to the second place in the Asian order of Merit after just seven events, some of which did see him come tantalisingly close to the title.

If the year ended on a bright note, the start was no let-down either with unheralded rookie Rahil Gangjee winning his first Asian Tour title after holding his nerve to clinch the inaugural Volkswagen Masters in Beijing, China, in a sudden-death play-off.

The 25-year-old showed remarkable poise at Pine Valley Golf Club to emerge victorious after a pulsating final round which saw at least seven players in with a chance of winning the $300,000 event.

It was indeed a remarkable win for the youngster who had turned pro in 2001 after establishing himself as the top amateur of the country.

Atwal, who clearly overshadowed others in the preceding year after he became the first Indian to qualify for the prestigious USPGA Tour, was a shade subdued after he failed to repeat the feat this time when he finished joint 77th in the grueling 108-hole annual qualifying tournament, played at La Quintal in California.

Atwal would have finished higher but for a disastrous fifth round which undermined his overall card. However, Atwal managed, just by a stroke, to finish high enough to get full exemption on the Nationwide Tour, the next rung to the PGA Tour.

Also, by finishing in the top 150 on the PGA Tour in 2004, Atwal guaranteed himself a minimum of 18 PGA events next year. It also meant he only had to play in the last of the three stages on the qualifying tournament.

So with the disappointment came the hope that the Kolkata pro would make the most of the Nationwide Tour which offers high-quality competition and lucrative prize money besides opening the doors to PGA avenues.

For Jeev, the year was yet another of toil and little success, raising concerns about his best being behind him.

Jeev, who had made history by qualifying for the US Open, the toughest major in the world in 2002, struggled clearly before showing signs of vintage form in the Okinawa Open, which incidentally is the first event of the 2005 season, to promise of better things to come.

The domestic tour, which got a shot in the arm with the Sahara Group extending its support to it through Amby Valley, was dominated by 23-year-old Ashok Kumar.

Ashok's emergence led credence to the belief that Indian golf would be in safe hands once the Big Three relinquish their places because not only did he impress in the PGAI Tour, he also made a mark on the Asian Tour, the highlight being a joint fifth finish at the Vietnam Open earlier this month.

He featured in three Asian Tour events and did not miss the cut in any of these, which in itself is a creditable achievement for a youngster.

Ashok was on song back home, registering five straight wins on the Amby Valley Tour to finish on the top of the Order of Merit table.

Another youngster Shiv Kapur, who won the Asian Games gold as an amateur, also made his presence felt in his maiden appearance as a pro on the Indian Tour.

He won a title in only his second event on the Tour and capped his good show with another triumph in Surya Nepal Masters in December.

India also enjoyed their share of limelight when world number one Vijay Singh of Fiji kept his promise and made a second visit to the country in two years to play in the BILT Skins Golf championship in Gurgaon.

Asked to comment on Indian golf, he said "the problem is that there are not enough players coming out of India. There are two or three top golfers but there are no additions to this group."

One can only hope that the legendary golfer's observation is proved wrong and India do manage to throw up a few world champions in near future.

Abhaya Srivastava
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