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Arjun Atwal qualifies for US PGA Tour
rediff.com Sportsdesk | December 09, 2003 12:19 IST
Last Updated: December 09, 2003 15:29 IST
In what will definitely go down as a red-letter day in the history of Indian golf, Arjun Atwal of Kolkata produced a sterling final round of three-under 69 in the final stage of the US PGA Tour Qualifying School to become the first Indian to make it to the highest Tour in the world.
Also advancing into the elite Tour is his roommate for the week and close friend, Daniel Chopra.
It was sweet redemption for Chopra, a Swede who honed his golfing skills in India, as he had missed qualifying from the Nationwide Tour after finishing 21st in the Money List in 2003. The top-20 automatically qualified, while Chopra made four bogies in his last seven holes in the final tournament of the Nationwide Tour to miss the opportunity by the narrowest of margins - less than US$-1200.
According to reports from the Orange National County Club in Florida, Atwal finished the six-round finals with a tally of 12-under 420 to be tied for seventh place.
Chopra shot a final-round four-under 68 to aggregate 13-under 419 and was sixth in the 170-man field.
The top-30 and ties received their cards for the 2004 season of the PGA Tour, which will feature 48 tournaments and a total purse of over US$-240 million.
"Playing the PGA Tour is what I have dreamt of ever since I started playing golf and I am glad that I have achieved it. This is perhaps the defining moment of my career, but I also realise that this is just the beginning. The next step would be to win a title on the PGA Tour and then a major. I am proud to be the first Indian on the PGA Tour and, hopefully, this will provide a big boost to the game back home," said Atwal on phone after his round as he left immediately for Bangkok to participate in the Volvo Masters of Asia.
It has been an outstanding year for Atwal, who not only won on the European and Asian PGA Tours (Carlsberg Malaysian Open and Hero Honda Masters), but is also in the reckoning for the Order of Merit crown on the Asian PGA Tour.
He is currently leading the race and is approximately US$-31,000 ahead of the second-placed Zhang Lian-wei of China going into the final tournament of the season.
"It was frustrating to miss the PGA Tour card through the Nationwide Tour in such a manner, but I told myself that this was not the end of the world. I have been playing some good golf lately and I was sure of doing well. But to actually get my card is a huge feeling. I am now looking forward to competing against the best in the world," said Chopra, who also heads for Bangkok after the round.
Also moving to the US was Korean sensation Kevin Na. The 20-year-old Asian PGA Tour graduate was tied 21st at 9-under 423. However, twice Asian PGA Tour Order of Merit winner Kang Wook-soon of Korea faced heartbreak when he bogied his final hole to miss by one stroke. Kang tied for 35th place at six-under 426 and will have to be satisfied with a fully exempt card on the Nationwide Tour, the second rung Tour of the US PGA. Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand finished way behind at 128th place.
Atwal started the day tied at 10th place at nine-under. At the Panther Lake course, he made birdies on the second, fifth and seventh holes to virtually seal his place. On the back nine, he made bogies on the 13th and 16th and a birdie on the 15th, but signed off in style with a birdie on the final hole.
Chopra, who also started at nine-under, made five birdies and a solitary bogey on the ninth. His birdies came on the second, fifth, seventh, tenth and 18th.
The medallist honour went to Mathias Gronberg of Sweden, who topped with a six-day tally of 20-under 412. The European PGA Tour, who has four titles under his belt on the other side of Atlantic, promptly donated his winner's cheque of US$-50,000 to cancer research.