Atwal holds nerve in dramatic play-off, wins Malaysian Open golf

March 9th, 2008 - 8:56 pm ICT by admin  

(Night lead)

Kuala Lumpur, March 9 (IANS) Playing a stunning final round of eight-under 64, Arjun Atwal first overcame the tension of a two hour 20 minute weather suspension to make the play-off and then held his nerve in a dramatic finish to beat defending champion Peter Hedblom of Sweden and win the Maybank Malaysian Open a second time. Atwal edged his rival at the second play-off hole at Kota Permai Golf and Country Club with a par on the par three 17th hole as Hedblom bogeyed with a disappointing three-putt. It was Atwal’s seventh triumph on the Asian Tour and his second Malaysian Open title to add to the one he won in 2003.

Atwal shot nine birdies, including a 10-footer on the 18th and last, and had only one bogey to rise from overnight 11th to get to 18-under and into a two-man play-off. He then survived rather two tense and tardy play-off holes.

Atwal and Hedblom had both finished at 18-under 270, with Hedblom’s birdie putt on the 18th of regulation play left hanging on the lip of the cup, less than a quarter of an inch outside.

Playing way ahead of the lead group, Atwal was the clubhouse leader at 18-under 270 and then sat in front of TV for 40 minutes waiting for the others to finish.

Third overnight, Jyoti Randhawa shot a final round 71 to finish at 15-under 273 in tied sixth place for his fourth successive top-10 finish. India’s other challengers, Gaurav Ghei (70) finished 37th at eight-under 280 and S.S.P.Chowrasia ((74) was 46th at six-under 282.

“A win is a win and it’s been five years and I’m glad that I got it done,” said a delighted Atwal, who earned the top cheque of US$333,330. “It hasn’t sunk in yet. When it does, I’ll let you know. Right now, I’m in a different world.

“The playoff wasn’t pretty. After he hit it in the water, I wanted to hit it anywhere left and I was a little tight on my swing. Pulled it a little bit and got an awful lie in the right and didn’t catch it solid and then hit the bunker shot fat. But I somehow got it into the hole.

“But unfortunately for Peter, he three putted and I made that putt for par on 17,” said Atwal.

In the first hole of the play-off overnight leader Hedblom hit the water with his tee shot on the 18th, but then clawed his way back bravely with his third shot and then a great pitch to reach a par. Atwal, till then peppering the pins all day, messed up his second shot hitting decent well off the tee.

Atwal failed to reach the green in three, leaving it short on the edge of the bunker for a tough fourth shot. He managed a superb up-and-down for par to send the tournament into a second play-off hole.

The second play-off hole on the 17th was as dramatic. On the 207-yard hole, Hedblom found the green, but was 40 feet away from the flag. Atwal missed the green with his tee shot and then came up with a great chip to about seven feet. Hedblom’s first putt was short and he then missed an eight-footer for par. Atwal holed his putt and dropped his putter in relief and joy as he grabbed his first title in five years.

“A unbelievable win,” is how Atwal described it. Speaking on the greenside immediately afterwards, he added, “After all I have been through last year and a half, this is huge for me. I just can’t put it in words.”

Four weeks after fellow Kolkatan S.S.P.Chowrasia shocked the top stars of Europe Tour by winning the Indian Masters on home soil, Atwal added another glorious chapter to Indian golf.

Indian golfers have now won twice, finished second twice and once fifth in what has been an amazing five-week stretch. While Chowrasia won the Indian Masters, Jeev Milkha Singh was second in Indonesia Open and Jyoti Randhawa was second in SAIL Open, an Asian Tour event and last week Shiv Kapur was fifth in Johnnie Walker Classic in Gurgaon.

Atwal, who has been on a comeback trail after a season of poor form and a tense off-course accident case, in which he was cleared only last month, has had a good season with a second place in Nationwide and then three finishes in top-15.

It was Atwal’s third European Tour win after his 2002 Singapore Masters and 2003 Malaysian Open.

As Englishman Simon Dyson, who led for most of the final day, dropped out of the race with a bogey on the 16th and then failed to get a birdie in last two holes, it boiled down to Hedblom and Atwal.

The Swede, who reached 18-under with a birdie on the 16th, had an eight-foot putt to win on the 18th. But the ball stopped a quarter of an inch short on the lip even as Hedblom watched it hoping it would drop. It hung on the lip and the players went into a play-off. And then Atwal pulled it off on the next.

Hedblom said, “It was a good defence. You are never happy when you lose and I thought I had a good chance to win. I am proud of myself for the way I defended my title and the putts I holed. 15, 16 and 17 I holed some great putts under pressure. Unlucky to three putt this last play-off hole.”

Hedblom has now played three play-offs on the European Tour and lost them all.

Australia’s Kane Webber shot his best round of 65 and finished in a tie for third place alongside English talent Simon Dyson who was in the thick of the fray before a dropped shot on the 16th ended his title charge.

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