Gaganjeet Bhullar becomes first Indian golfer to win Macau Open
Rising star leads all the way to become first Indian to win tournament
India has a new sporting star, and he is not a cricketer. Gaganjeet Bhullar might not quite hog the headlines like master batsman Sachin Tendulkar, but his day in the sun is not far off after the 24-year-old from Kapurthala proved the pundits right by winning the Venetian Macau Open yesterday.
A week ago, K.J.Choi, the first Korean to earn a PGA Tour card and a regular on it now, told Bhullar that he had the game to rub shoulders with the big guns on the American stage. And Bhullar showed he has the right temperament as well, as he became the first Indian to win the Macau Open, which this year was boosted by support for the first time from the casinos.
Bhullar, however, didn't leave it to chance, with a solid wire-to-wire victory underlining his huge potential. Even a late charge by American Jonathan Moore, who birdied the last five holes, failed to ruffle the composure of Bhullar, who finished with a two-stroke victory.
A final round of 68 was the icing on the cake. He had led from start to finish to end on 16-under 268, and throughout the week had never looked in danger of losing his grip on the US$750,000 Asian Tour event. His cool-as-a-cucumber approach allowed him to lift a winner's purse of US$118,875. It was his second victory in as many months.
"This will take time to sink in. I have had a few wire-to-wire victories before in India, but this is my first on this bigger stage. I think it was more that I had to prove to myself that I'm a frontrunner. I had to believe in myself and I did it this week, so this is really special," Bhullar said.
With that belief bubbling inside, the world could become Bhullar's oyster. He feels his game has progressed so much that he is even entertaining thoughts of following in the footsteps of countrymen like Arjun Atwal and Jeev Milka Singh, who have played on the PGA Tour with greats like Tiger Woods.
"I played with K.J.Choi and Ben Curtis last week and they gave me some advice which helped. K.J.told me that I have the game for the PGA Tour and that it's just a matter of time," Bhullar said.
Starting the day with a two-shot lead, Bhullar saw that cut down to just one by playing partner Thitiphun Chuayprakong early in the day. But after flirting with the lead, the Thai self-destructed as he hit a tee shot out of bounds for a double-bogey at the eighth hole. That allowed Bhullar to stretch his lead to four.
That safety valve seldom looked in danger of being breached, as most of the rest of the field failed to apply any pressure. But American Moore, who along with girlfriend and caddie Claire had been featured taking a ride on a gondola under the "Bridge of Sighs" in a promotion for the sponsors, had other ideas.
Playing in the flight ahead of Bhullar, Moore's golden run began at the 14th and by the 17th hole, he had ratcheted up the pressure, cutting into Bhullar's lead. A final birdie on the last hole cut it down to just one and as Bhullar walked up to the 18th, all eyes were on him wondering if a play-off was in the cards.
Bhullar said: "I thought it was going to be a nice and relaxing last few holes but Moore played really well. He holed a long putt on the 17th and I saw that. There was some pressure on my putt [at the 17th] and I was lucky enough to make par on that hole."
If he hadn't, he would have been tied walking up to the 18th green as Moore rolled in his fifth successive birdie to cut the lead to just one.
"It was a great finish, but Gaganjeet is a really good player. There have been some great players coming out of India and he is one of them, he's had an amazing year," Moore said.
In joint third place were Bangladeshi Siddikur and Thitiphun on 12-under 72. Former major champion Ian Woosnam ended on one-under 283, 15 shots behind Bhullar.