Asian golf stars coming of age

March 10th, 2008 - 12:50 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, March 10 (IANS) Asian golf has never been stronger. In the last four events, co-sanctioned with European Tour, Asian Tour players have won three times and finished second once, sending strong signals that Asian golf has indeed come of age. The success of Asian Tour golfers in the co-sanctioned events is also a big thumbs-up for the Tour, which has been the platform on which the likes of K.J. Choi, Daniel Chopra, Arjun Atwal, Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa, Mark Brown, S.S.P. Chowrasia and others first made their mark.

Now a decade a half later, Asian Tour golfers have been churning out champions at an ever-increasing pace.

Atwal, who went into the play-off to win his second Maybank Malaysian Open title Sunday, is convinced that Asian Tour’s rising stature is now on full display.

Atwal, who claimed a seventh career Asian Tour triumph with a tense play-off over defending champion Peter Hedblom of Sweden, said: “You see how the Asian Tour has come about. I started here in 1995 and it was tough for the first few years for Asians to win big events. But now, it happens every year. It’s great.”

His fellow Kolkatan S.S.P. Chowrasia set the ball rolling with a life-changing victory at the Emaar-MGF Indian Masters on the outskirts of the Indian capital last month while Asian Tour regular Mark Brown of New Zealand was triumphant at the Johnnie Walker Classic, also in India, two weeks ago.

India’s Jeev Milkha Singh came within a whisker before being beaten on the 72nd hole and came a close second at the Enjoy Jakarta Astro Indonesia Open, the fourth event sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.

Atwal, who rose to third place on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit with $419,387, will now focus on his efforts to regain his card on the US PGA Tour via the secondary circuit, the Nationwide Tour, but said he will forever be indebted to the Asian Tour that shaped his fledgling career during the 1990s.

“The Asian Tour has helped me immensely. I went to my first Qualifying School in 1995 to learn how to make cuts, then to be in contention and finally win. All those I have learnt on the Asian Tour,” said Atwal, the 2003 Asian Tour number one.

“Those were the best years of my life. I still say it. I had so much fun and everyone are so close. You still see the guys out here, it’s great.”

It was Atwal’s first victory in five years since his success in the 2003 Hero Honda Masters in India and Sunday’s win, which came courtesy of a stunning final round 64 that forced a play-off. It was the perfect finish for the Indian who had not defended his Malaysian Open crown earlier, after winning it in 2003.

Asian Tour Executive Chairman Kyi Hla Han hailed Atwal’s return to form. “It caps a memorable past five weeks for the Asian Tour as three of our members have achieved victories against many of Europe’s top players.

“Arjun’s triumph cements the fact that the standard of play on the Asian Tour is really strong. The wonderful performances over the past few weeks will serve to strengthen the Asian Tour’s growing presence in world golf and it is certainly timely as our 2008 season is poised to offer a record Schedule of 30 tournaments and over $40 million in prize money.”

Over the past few years, Atwal’s American adventure has been filled with ups and downs following a back injury and a police investigation which hung over his head following a car accident last year. The Indian was cleared of all charges three weeks ago and hopes to move on with his golf career.

“I don’t know how to put it in words. To come out of that and win, it’s great for me personally,” he said.

Atwal revealed that world number one Tiger Woods has also been a great help to his career. “I belong to the same club as Tiger in Orlando and he’s been a big help. Just practising with him and watching him work the way he does is motivation enough for me. For him to come and help me with my swing and more on the fitness factor has been really big for me.

“He doesn’t give me lessons. But anytime I have problems, I can ask him and he’ll help me out. If you get anything from the world number one, you’ll take it gladly,” said Atwal.

“I want to get my PGA Tour card back. We have moved to Orlando and my eldest son goes to school there. But having won this, I have to reassess my schedule but it’s too early to talk about that.”

Brown, who finished tied 26th in Malaysia, took his season’s haul to $556,233 to cement his position at the top of the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit, with Chowrasia, who finished 46th, in second place.

The Asian Tour heads to Korea this week for the inaugural Ballantine’s Championship at Pinx Golf Club on Jeju island. The $2.9 million event is sanctioned with the European Tour.

Asian Tour Order Of Merit - Top-20
Pos Name Order Of Merit ($)
1.Mark Brown (Nzl) 556,233
2.S.S.P. Chowrasia (Ind) 426,260
3.Arjun Atwal (Ind) 419,387
4.Scott Strange (Aus) 216,185
5. Jyoti Randhawa (Ind) 203,795
6.Taichiro Kiyota (Jpn) 189,560
7. Jeev Milkha Singh (Ind) 175,698
8.Kane Webber (Aus) 154,942
9.Digvijay Singh (Ind) 122,666
10.Shiv Kapur (Ind) 110,254
11.Scott Barr (Aus) 94,121
12.Prayad Marksaeng (Tha) 93,350
13.Prom Meesawat (Tha) 87,452
14.Gaurav Ghei (Ind) 87,240
15.Scott Hend (Aus) 70,033
16. Simon Yates (Sco) 56,994
17.Keith Horne (Rsa) 53,966
18.Hendrik Buhrmann (Rsa) 53,680
19.Unho Park (Aus) 49,778
20.Tony Carolan (Aus) 49717

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