Arjun Atwal has an achievement on his CV very few golfers can boast of – he is a winner on the PGA Tour. And yet, he had no hesitation in putting his win at the inaugural Dubai Open on the same pedestal as the 2010 Wyndham Championship.
The $500,000 Asian Tour event may not compare to Atwal’s several big wins in the past, but it ended a frustrating wait of more than four years to get back into the winner’s circle for the former Asia No1.
In a dramatic turn of events at The Els Club on Sunday, the 41-year-old from Kolkata, who is now a resident of Celebration, Orlando, birdied the last hole for a final-round five-under par 67 to beat 19-year-old Korean Wang Jeung-hun by one shot.
Atwal, who lost his card on every major tour following two horrendous year during which he struggled with a debilitating back and knee injury, finished on 16-under par 272. The win gives him a two-year exemption on the Asian Tour and the winning cheque of $90,000 also moves him to 25th in the final 2014 Order of Merit.
Scotsman Simon Yates took third place following a 68.
Wang led Atwal by three shots after a birdie on the 10th hole, but the experience of the seven-time Asian Tour winner showed as he first narrowed the gap with three birdies on a trot from the 13th hole onwards, and then capitalized on two mistakes in the last two holes by his rival.
With Atwal making a bogey on the 17th hole and seemingly out of the contention, Wang three-putted for a bogey to remain just one shot ahead. He lost that advantage with another bogey on the 18th after hitting his three-wood second shot to the native area in the right, from where he took another four shots to finish the hole.
— Arjun Atwal (@Arjunatwal) December 21, 2014
When asked to compare his 2010 Wyndham win with this, a delighted Atwal said: “Actually, it’s just as good. I can’t believe I’m saying that, considering it was my lifetime goal to win on the PGA Tour.
“I think it’s maybe even a greater feeling today. Because the way things went the last two years, there was a time when I didn’t think I would play again or compete again. Especially when I had the back injury and the hip injury. I could not even walk properly. So, yeah, it’s something else right now.”
Atwal admitted he felt like the tournament was handed over to him by Wang, saying: “It was like just more relief than anything else that the day is over. I was feeling a little bit with my nerves but it was a gift today. I haven’t won a tournament like this where someone has actually gifted it to me. I got lucky.”
Four players share the lead with another six just one shot back as the Asian Tour heads for a thrilling climax at the Els Club on Sunday.
Major champion Darren Clarke and Jbe Kruger were yesterday’s big movers as they both went round in 64 to lift themselves into contention.
Going into the final day, Korea’s Wang Jeung-hun and Kruger of South Africa and the Indian duo of Arjun Atwal and Shiv Kapur are tied for the lead at 10 under, with Clarke lurking behind in a chasing pack which includes Chapchai Nirat and Pariya Junhasavasdikul, both of Thailand, Daisuke Kataoka of Japan, Simon Yates of Scotland and India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar.
— DubaiOpen (@DubaiOpen) December 21, 2014
Two under at the start of the day, South African Kruger, who aced the par-3 second hole with a seven iron, and eagled the par-5 eighth, also rattled off seven birdies against three bogeys in his sterling round.
“When I holed out at the second, I knew something special was around the corner. It has been a long year for me, so it’s special to be able to put together a round like that,” said Kruger.
“I am definitely excited to be in this position. It’s all about putting at the end of the day and if I can do that well, I think I stand a good chance.”
India’s Kapur overcame a stuttering start to sign for a 69, playing the back nine with the attitude he displayed on the front nine at the 2013 Open Championship in Muirfield where he birdied six of the first seven holes in the round one.
“I came up one short of doing that when I missed my eagle putt on the last hole but I am happy with the way I fought back,” said Kapur who made a bogey-bogey start to his third round.
“There was a time where I could have completely thrown myself out of the tournament, but I’m tied for the lead, which is not too bad.”
Atwal, Asia’s number one in 2003, has not contended since becoming the first Indian to win on the PGA Tour in 2010 and reckons the hottest putter will walk away with the Dubai Open crown.
“It’s been a while,” said the seven-time Asian Tour winner. “Just make a lot of putts. Make a lot of birdies. It’s going to be fun I think.”
Clarke, who won the Open Championship in 2011, came to the party, matching the best score of the tournament thus far with six birdies and a chip-in eagle (par-4, 16th) in his bogey-free round.
“I’ve played really well all week but made no putts and made a mess of the last hole, the ninth yesterday (for double). I hit an awful lot of good shots and holed a couple of putts today,” said Clarke.
“I shot two 64s in a Pro Am event in Turkey two weeks ago, the Banco Classic, so I’m playing better again which is nice. I’m here to play. I’m not here to make up the numbers. My timing has been off a little bit because of all the weight that I’ve lost. So because of that, it’s taken a bit of time.”
— Darren Clarke (@DarrenClarke60) December 21, 2014
England’s Joshua White kept the MENA Golf Tour flag flying, returning a 70 to move into a tie for 13th on seven-under, three ahead of Christopher Cannon and four better than Lee Corfield.
World No1 Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer and Matteo Manassero have all confirmed their participation for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship next month.
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While places are quickly filling up, there’s still time to become a volunteer and be part of the 10th edition of the tournament.
Volunteers, who will play an integral role in the Championship’s success, will complete a variety of tasks during the four-day event including operating the leader boards, walking scorers and measuring the length of players’ tee shots.
The experience offers a unique insight into one of the region’s biggest and best-loved sporting events. They will get to know the game of golf and crucially gain invaluable experience working within a team – a highly transferable skill they can implement in the future.
Championship organisers are already reporting hundreds of applications from within the UAE and further afield, as golf fans hope to travel from far and wide for a chance to see the world’s best tee off in the UAE capital for the Thursday, January 15 to Sunday, January 18 event.
“Every year we welcome more than 450 volunteers to the Championship,” said Jean Iggo, Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship’s volunteer coordinator.
“It’s a unique opportunity for fans to see the pros up close. Many volunteers even take time off work and travel to participate, flying in from the UK and as far afield as the US.
“This year we have seen applications flood in at a record-breaking rate, both locally and internationally, as it seems the whole world wants to be a part of the Championship’s 10th anniversary event.”
Anyone from 17-years and above can apply for the role, with uniforms and refreshments provided. Volunteers are required to work for a minimum of two days during the tournament.
And Iggo said it will be a worthwhile experience. She said: “It’s ideal if they are familiar with golf and with it being the 10th anniversary of the tournament it will be quite special. It’s for them to come and enjoy the golf and be part of a great event. Every volunteer will have a part to play and will become a team player.
“Some of the volunteers take annual leave from their work just to take part so it speaks volumes of how big and exciting this competition is.”
What: Volunteer at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship
Where: Abu Dhabi Golf Club
When: January 15 to 18
Contact: If you are interested in volunteering, visit www.abudhabigolfchampionship.com