ARJUN ATWAL - The fade that refuses to fade away from Atwal’s memory

Arjun Atwal, the only Indian to ever win a PGA Tour title, deliberated for some time before answering: “I reflect the most about my three-putt on the 72nd hole at Torey Pines in the 2006 Buick Invitational, and the 5-wood I smashed into water in the play-off at the 2005 BellSouth Classic.

“One tournament I lost to Tiger (Woods), and the other to Lefty (Phil Mickelson). So that’s pretty memorable!

“Perhaps I am an old dude…back-in-my-days types…but I remember those two losses, and hence those two shots, vividly.”

On Sunday, Atwal reached the par-5 18th hole of Torrey Pines South course at nine-under par. An eagle would have won him a PGA Tour title five years before he eventually did (2010 Wyndham Championship), and a birdie would have taken him into a play-off with Woods, Jose Maria Olazabal and Nathan Green.

Two solid shots had left him with a 40-feet putt for an eagle. There did not seem much break – Atwal played inside-right – and raced it nearly five feet past. He then missed the return putt.

The three-putt hurt even more because Atwal was coming off one of his finest putting years in 2005 when he was sixth in PGA Tour’s Shots Gained – Putting with an average of +.657.

The 5-wood into water was what ended Atwal’s chances in a five-man play-off. He made it to the play-off after shooting the best round on Sunday – an eight-under par 64.

Perhaps, it is the longevity and quality of Atwal’s career that he needed to be goaded to remember his most memorable shot. But he eventually came up with one after having jogged his memory back almost 20 years.

“It was probably the three-wood out of the fairway bunker on the 18th hole at the old DLF Golf & Country Club course in the third round of Hero Honda Masters in 2000,” said Atwal.

The 18th at DLF has water in front of an amphitheater-style, bean-shaped green with a narrow opening towards the left side. Pin that day was back right, one of the toughest on that green.

While the tournament was not on the line on Saturday, Atwal wanted to get as close to the leader as possible.

“My caddy (the well-known Ali Jaan) wanted me to lay up and wedge it on. But I knew I could pull off the shot, so I took out my 3-wood and hit about a 20-yard fade over the water to about 10 feet. Unfortunately, I missed the eagle putt, but I did get my birdie.”

That birdie helped him get to within two shots of the third-round leader Rodrigo Cuello of the Philippines. On Sunday, Atwal shot a six-under par 66, which included a stretch of four holes from the sixth in which he birdied all four, to eventually win by two shots.

The week after, Atwal traveled to Hong Kong and also won the Star Alliance Open, again by two shots. Three years later, Atwal won the Hero Honda Masters for a second time.

By Joy Chakravarty (@TheJoyofGolf)

Picture: Asian Tour

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