Jeev Milkha Singh became only the second Indian golfer – following Arjun Atwal – to triumph on The European Tour International Schedule when he claimed victory in the Volvo China Open. The 34 year old carded a final round 70 at the Honghua International Golf Club in Beijing for a ten under par total of 278 to take the title by a shot from Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano with England’s David Lynn, the third round leader, a further shot adrift in third.
It was an emotional victory which moved him to 14th on The European Tour Order of Merit and gave him the final proof that his years in the wilderness following a succession of injury setbacks after the turn of the century, were over. He was the first Indian golfer to qualify for The European Tour in 1997 and his courageous final day performance in the Chinese capital ensured he once again wrote his name in the history books.
“This is fantastic,” he said. “When I was injured, I didn't know if I was going to come back in the sport. When I came back I wasn't thinking the same way. I was struggling, I was putting pressure on myself and I was getting down. And after that, you don't think right. I started working hard and the wrist became better and things started looking better for me. I've just won and it's one of the best feelings.
“I just can't explain this feeling. It's like a dream come true. I've always tried hard to win and today, I just went in there with reverse psychology thinking that if it doesn't happen, never mind. I just wanted to give it my best shot. And it worked out perfect for me. I'm really excited and happy the way it worked out.”
One shot adrift of playing partner Lynn at the start of the day, proceedings did not start promisingly for Singh when he bogeyed the opening hole. But he regrouped manfully and birdies at the third, fifth and seventh holes saw him reach the turn in 34 and one shot clear at the top of the leaderboard as Lynn turned in level par 36.
At that moment, the main challenge from the pack looked to be coming from defending champion Paul Casey who was moving ominously forwards. But bogeys at the tenth and 11th holes blew the air out of the Ryder Cup player’s tyres and he eventually had to settle for a share of fourth place on seven under par 271 with Australians Peter Fowler and Jarrod Lyle and fellow Englishman Simon Wakefield.
It was clear then, as the tournament moved into the closing stages, that the battle for the title and the €247,748 (£172,344) first prize would be between Singh, Lynn and Fernandez-Castano.
Lynn, who had led from the halfway stage, appeared to have got his challenge back on track when he rolled in a ten footer for birdie on the tenth green. But then, as quickly as his putting touch had returned, it disappeared, and his inability to find the bottom of the cup cost him the chance of his second European Tour title.
The 32 year old three-putted the 13th for bogey, followed that with another three putt for par at the long 14th, and when he went on then to also three putt the 15th for bogey, he knew in his heart of hearts that the chance to follow up his win in the 2004 KLM Open had gone.
“I want to try and win more tournaments so I feel like I have let this one slip a little bit to be honest,” said Lynn, who eventually carded a 73 for an eight under par total of 280 to take third place. “But it is still a good finish, I have to take the positives out of it – it is another top three finish.
“I will look back on today and I know how good I felt inside and how strong I felt and I thought I was going to give it a good go, so I’ll look at the positives.”
It left the man who succeeded Lynn as KLM Open champion last year, Fernandez-Castano, as Singh’s main challenger. The winner of The 2005 Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year on The European Tour was solid from tee to green all day if unspectacular, but all that changed on the 365 yard 17th.
In the bunker after a pulled three iron from the tee, the Spaniard had 186 yards to the pin and covered them impeccably with a sensational six iron from the sand which finished a mere five feet from the pin.
The resulting birdie three pulled him to within a shot of Singh in the final match behind, but any real hope he had of forcing a play-off ended when he pulled his drive into the woods at the last and had to chip out one handed and backwards, a la his idol Seve Ballesteros, on his way to a bogey five, a 70, a nine under par total of 279 and second place outright.
“I had a good number of birdie chances and it was a shame because my putting was okay but not enough went in, “ he said. “But my driving was bad over the last five or six holes. When I feel the pressure my swing gets a little faster and it is difficult to control my tempo.
“It was a shame about the drive on the 18th which cost me a bogey because it is a difficult hole to par to win a tournament and I would have liked to have parred it to put a little bit of pressure on Singh.
“But it has been a great week. I made a couple of stupid mistakes on Friday which cost me some shots which I regret right now, but from all these things you learn and I think I am getting to be a better player now because of it, step by step. That is why we play the game, to get into positions like that and feel the pressure and I will learn from today.”
The Spaniard’s earlier words were prophetic because Singh, who had not dropped a shot all day since his blemish on the opening hole, did indeed bogey the last, three putting from 40 feet after his second shot had crawled onto the front edge of the putting surface.
But it did not matter as the prize, the glory and the adulation was his. The son of the famous Indian Olympic runner Milkha Singh, had triumphed in a marathon of his own.
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