Suva, 05 Aug’18- Persistence pays off for Gaganjeet Bhullar as he claims maiden European Tour title at Fiji International, also becomes first Indian to win nine Asian Tour titles. Bhullar moves into fourth place on Asian Tour money list, earns winner’s exemption on European Tour, Asian Tour and PGA Tour of Australasia.
Indian star Gaganjeet Bhullar had been constantly knocking on the door of victory this year with five top-10s including two runner-up finishes on the Asian Tour. His persistence finally paid off at the Fiji International presented by Fiji Airways, a US$ 970,000 event, tri-sanctioned by the European Tour, Asian Tour and the PGA Tour of Australasia.
The 30-year-old Bhullar (70-69-69-66), the overnight leader by one, produced a classic final round of six-under-66 at the Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course on Sunday to garner a one-shot victory at 14-under-274 and as a result take home his first European Tour trophy. Australia’s Anthony Quayle finished second at 13-under-275.
The well-built Kapurthala lad’s achievement on Sunday ensured that he also became the first Indian to win nine Asian Tour titles going past Jeev Milkha Singh and Arjun Atwal both of whom have eight wins each on the tour.
Gaganjeet, who led the Australian quartet of Jarryd Felton, Andrew Dodt, Jake McLeod and Terry Pilkadaris, by one shot after round three, produced early breakthroughs on Sunday with birdies on the first, third and fourth, to take a two-shot lead.
Bhullar then stumbled with a bogey on the seventh but rallied to get back into the match with birdies on the ninth and 13th, sinking it from the fringe on the latter. In the meantime, Anthony Quayle, who started the day two shots back of Bhullar, surmounted a late challenge when he stormed home with three birdies and two eagles on his back-nine for a course record score of nine-under-63. Quayle set the bar at a challenging 13-under in the clubhouse.
Gaganjeet, who found himself trailing Quayle late in the day, withstood the intense pressure by producing one of the best shots of the week on the 17th hole which would eventually seal his European Tour card after a four-year gap.
Staring at yet another bridesmaid finish this season, the Indian showed he would not be cowed under pressure as he holed a monstrous chip from outside the 17th green for an eagle-three.
That eagle provided him with some relief as he would head into the last hole with a one-shot advantage over Quayle.
Bhullar hit his approach shot straight onto the green on the 18th and left his birdie putt just short of the hole. He went on to convert an easy tap-in for par on the last hole to become the first Indian to win an event co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour of Australasia.
Gaganjeet’s spectacular triumph lifted him from 10th to fourth place in the Asian Tour’s Habitat for Humanity Standings. Bhullar, currently ranked 163 in the world, is also likely to make major gains in the latest world rankings list which will be released on Monday.
Major winner Ernie Els of South Africa also staged a late comeback by closing with a 65 to share third place with New Zealand’s Ben Campbell (66) at 12-under-276.
The big-hitting Gaganjeet, who showed great composure and mental courage in round four, said, “It was a tough day. It was windy, flags were tough, but I played really well. I gave myself many, many opportunities today. The key was I got on to a really good start, I was three under after four holes and I think that kept me going."
“Just around the turn things were actually getting a little tough for me, but I think I managed to make a really good par save on number 10. That gave me a lot of boost, a lot of confidence," he said.
“After that, it was just one shot at a time and I was just able to execute. I was mentally prepared for that. I knew somebody or another had to go low today. Even Ernie Els, he's a legend, he was playing really well. Anthony, I know his game, he played really well. Nine-under out there in these conditions, that's a great round of golf," Gaganjeet said.
“Even though after number 16, I still had hopes, I still had kind of a feeling that I can win the tournament, but I think that chip-in on 17 pretty much closed the deal. I had a little bit of an idea that this chip is going to run a lot, but it wasn't an easy chip, I could have easily missed up and down and settled for second or third," he said.
“This kind of good form was definitely building up from last, I would say, two months, I had two good finishes. In fact, more than two, but two runner up finishes on the Asian Tour. I've been playing really well. It was just a matter of time and I'm glad it happened on this stage,” added the man who suffered a serious wrist injury in 2014 that brought him back from the European Tour to the Asian Tour.
Bhullar had also won a European Challenge Tour event in 2011 so his overall tally of international titles now stands at 10. He is now only the third Indian besides Jeev Milkha Singh (13) and Arjun Atwal (10) to have 10 or more international wins to his credit.
Bhullar’s latest feat saw him regain his European Tour card for the first time since 2014. He will now enjoy the winner’s exemption on the European Tour till the end of next season.
Gaganjeet has also earned his card on the Asian Tour and the PGA Tour of Australasia for the current as well as next two seasons. India’s Ajeetesh Sandhu took a share of 43rd place at two-over-290 after a final round of one-under-71. (UNI)