Greensboro (USA): Arjun Atwal scripted history by becoming the first Indian golfer to clinch a US PGA Tour title as he lifted the Wyndham Championship trophy here, regaining his playing card on the elite tour within weeks of losing it to poor form in a remarkable turnaround of fortune.
Atwal, who had a three-shot lead going into the final round, returned a steady three-under 67 to clinch the title by a stroke with a total of 20-under 260. The Indian took home USD 918,000 for his effort yesterday.
But more importantly, the victory at Sedgefield Country Club earned him his status on the PGA Tour for the remainder of this year and the next two years as well.
American David Toms fired a six-under 64 to take the second spot at 19-under on the leaderboard.
The Orlando-based Atwal also became the first Monday-qualifier to win on the PGA Tour in 24 years. Fred Wadsworth was the last to achieve such a feat at the 1986 Southern Open.
"I don't know if it has sunk in yet, seriously. Obviously it was a long-time dream but until it happens you just keep doubting yourself. I had my doubts despite a three-shot lead. I am so glad, I was very nervous, the most nervous I have been in all my life," the 37-year-old pro, who has titles on the Asian, European and the Nationwide Tour under his belt, said after the nervy final round.
"My swing wasn't feeling great but I just grinded it out and got it done somehow," a cheerful Atwal said. In a steady performance, Atwal picked up strokes on the third and fourth holes to be two-under at the turn.
On his way back, he added another two birdies on the 14th and 16th but a bogey on the 12th prevented him from going 21-under, something that his friend and practice partner Tiger Woods had asked him to aim for the night before the final round in a text message.
"My goal was to get it to 21-under today. I came up one short. Actually that's the number my friend Tiger Woods also told me to get to last night," he said. "It's all text, we never talk. He's busy I guess," Atwal quipped. Atwal said he was a bundle of nerves all through the day and credited his caddie for keeping him calm.
"The leaderboard just kept changing. Everybody was tied for the lead at certain point. I knew the guys were going to shoot low today. My heart rate was over 150 at the last hole but my caddie told me to relax. I just calmed myself down," he said.
On whether he had given himself a chance here after coming through Monday qualifiers, Atwal said he went in with a nothing-to-lose approach.
"My mind is a little scrambled right now. The only thing I remember about the week is that after the Monday qualifiers, I told my caddie that we have got nothing to lose. I don't have a card anymore," he recalled.
"Guys are going to be out there trying to secure their FedExCup spots or whatever. We've got nothing. I don't have a card. I don't have anything. Just go out there and free-wheel it, and that's what I did this week," he added. Atwal would take a break next week to spend some time with his family and celebrate the win, which he said would be huge back home in India.
Atwal's previous best on the Tour was a tied second finish in the Tavistock Cup in March.
"I am pretty sure it's going to be huge in India. The coverage is just unreal. I know there were a lot of people watching. I am taking the next week off. My family and in-laws are going to celebrate. It's somebody's birthday...My father-in-law's birthday," he said.
The triumph marks a remarkable recovery for Atwal, who lost his Tour card last month after coming up short on the Money List following the RBC Canadian Open. Before this, he had been laid low by a shoulder injury.
Atwal's compatriot Jeev Milkha Singh also signed off on a positive note, carding a four-under 66 for a share of the 18th spot with a total of 14-under 266. The Chandigarh golfer's card was studded with six birdies against a lone double bogey. PTI