Above par

It was no ordinary win for this 37-year-old native-born Indian. He triumphed over mental and physical injuries to get his career back on track. And he did it in style.

I WAS REALLY nervous over that putt. It was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my entire life. My heart rate was probably 150 at the time.” But he did putt right in the final hole, and with that one stroke Arjun Atwal drove himself and India up the table in the world of golf.

He became the first Indian to win on the US PGA Tour, realising a long-time dream of his as well as that of millions from his populous country. A resident of Florida now, Atwal won the Wyndham Championship by a single stroke, when his final round of 67 was sufficient to leave him on 20-under 260.

In fact, Atwal’s friend, the legendary Tiger Woods, had sent him a text message indicating that he should he try to finish on 21-under. Atwal did not reach that target but it was sufficient for him to become only the sixth Asian-born player to win on this prestigious tour.

The 37-year-old Atwal took to the game at the age of 14, playing at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club. Born into a Sikh family of Asansol, near Kolkata, Atwal turned professional in 1995, quickly becoming one of the leading players on the Asian Tour. He topped the order of merit in 2003 and became the first man to win a million US dollars on the tour by winning the Hero Honda Masters on home soil in the same year.

In 2005, Atwal came close to winning on the PGA Tour numerous times, most notably at the BellSouth Classic in April. His dream run suffered a setback when he was involved in a crash, reportedly with street racing on SR 535 in Windermere, Florida, on March 10, 2007. A driver, John Noah Park, 48, was killed in the incident, though Atwal was not injured. After a year of investigation, the case was closed with no charges filed. Then, to make matters worse, after the 2010 RBC Canadian Open, Atwal lost his PGA Tour card after his medical exemption, received due to a shoulder injury, ran out and he had failed to earn enough money. But this win sees Atwal regaining his playing privileges on the PGA Tour through 2012.

Atwal, only got into the Wyndham Championship via a qualifier for four spots. He became the first Monday qualifier to win on tour since 1986 and his rewards, apart from the two-year exemption, includes $918,000, and the invitation to next year’s Masters, a tournament he has never played.

“That will be awesome,” he said. “I was supposed to get in when I won the money list in Asia in 2003, because the No. 1 gets in from there, but they somehow gave it to the No. 2 guy, who was from China.”

But his time Atwal has ensured that there is no ambiguity about his participation.

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