Arjun Atwal became the first Indian golfer to win on The European Tour International Schedule when he captured the Caltex Singapore Masters at Laguna National Golf and Country Club with an emphatic five stroke winning margin.
Atwal, only the second golfer from India to earn Full Membership of The European Tour after graduating from the European Tour Qualifying School Finals last November, shot rounds of 70-69-67-68 for a 14 under par total of 274, five strokes clear of Australian Richard Green with England’s Nick Faldo claiming third place a further shot back.
The 28 year old from Calcutta is only the fourth Asian golfer to win on The European Tour following victories by Taiwan’s Lu Liang-Huan, better known as Mr Lu, who won the 1971 Open de France, Japan’s Isao Aoki (1983 Smurfit European Open) and Taiwan’s Yeh Wei-tse (2000 Carlsberg Malaysian Open).
Atwal started the final round one stroke clear of the field but pulled clear with three birdies in an outward half of 33 to leave the chasing pack trailing in his wake. After missing two putts from with ten feet on the opening two holes, Atwal settled with a birdie two on the 193 yard fifth after holing from 15 feet.
Another birdie followed on the par five seventh hole but it was after his second shot to the ninth that he knew the title was his. Faced with 185 yards to an island green, Atwal played a perfect five iron to leave himself a two foot putt for birdie which he duly converted.
He picked up a fourth and final birdie of the round on the 11th before parring in to claim the 171,855 euro (£104,806) first prize. Victory in the event joint sanctioned by The European Tour and the Davidoff Tour, lifts him to sixth in the Volvo Order of Merit and earns him a two year exemption to The European Tour.
“It’s quite an achievement to be the first Indian golfer to win on The European Tour,” said Atwal. “Jeev (Milka Singh) has come close, finished second and third in South Africa. I didn’t expect to win so quickly but I will take it.
“I just felt very comfortable with the way I was hitting the ball and this was the perfect week to peak. The last two rounds were two of the best ball striking rounds I have had in a long time. When I won the Indian Open at Calcutta I was bogey free but this ball striking was better than that.
“Hopefully it will do wonders for golf in India. We have had a bunch of guys who have won on the Davidoff Tour but to win on The European Tour is a totally different ball game. Hopefully it will show all the young kids who have started playing seriously in India and are thinking of turning pro that there is a future in golf for them.”
Green emerged as the nearest challenger to Atwal on the final day but after the perfect start in which he birdied the first hole from just a foor, the lefthaner Australian was unable to close the gap further and had to settle for second place on nine under par 279 after a closing 70. Nevertheless it was his best finish on The European Tour International Schedule since he won the 1997 Dubai Desert Classic.
“It was probably better than expected,” said Green. “I hadn’t been playing that great in Australia but things have been turning around. I had a few chances today. I made probably two mistakes which I thought cost me. You always want a chance to win and I gave it a good shot but it was Arjun’s day.”
A further shot back Faldo continued his rise to prominence with his third successive top ten finish after a closing round of 70. The six time Major Champion made a charge with four successive birdies from the 11th but had too much ground to cover.
"Its nice to be up there,” said Faldo after his highest finish since the 2001 Volvo PGA Championship. “It’s good for me to play under pressure. I have found what works at the weekend when I am under pressure and have to keep working on those feelings. The more I can groove those and get that little bit more confidence, the better. That will be to be the big breakthrough when I can stand up and know what I am going to do, I mean really know what I am going to do. That will be a big step forward. If I can get that in the next couple of weeks then I’ve got to believe I will be knocking on the door.”