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Atwal drives with big boys

other Updated: Aug 24, 2010 00:53 IST

Apart from fulfilling a dream by winning the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina on Sunday, Arjun Atwal made history by becoming the first Indian to win a title on the US PGA Tour.

The prize purse of $918,000 (Rs 4.28 crore) was probably the second-biggest by an Indian from a single sporting event after Viswanathan Anand's 1.2m euros (Rs 7 crore approximately) paycheque for winning the last world championship.

"It's been a lifetime dream and to achieve it is great," said Atwal from Florida on Monday.

The 37-year-old, who had a three-shot lead going into the final round, returned a steady three-under 67 to clinch the title by a stroke with a total of 20-under 260.

Making it a great day for India was Jeev Milkha Singh's tied-18th finish in the same competition. Jeev had a final round of four-under 66 to tally 14-under 266. This is the first time two Indians finished in the top-20 of a USPGA Tour event.

For Atwal, victory at Sedgefield Country Club earned him his status on the PGA Tour for the remainder of this year and the next two years as well.

Following the 2010 RBC Canadian Open, Atwal lost his PGA Tour card after his medical exemption, received due to a shoulder injury, ran out and he had failed to earn enough money.

The Orlando-based Atwal also became the first qualifier to win on the PGA Tour in 24 years. Fred Wadsworth was the last to achieve such a feat at the 1986 Southern Open.

"After winning the qualifiers, Arjun had told me that he was hitting the ball like never before and that his swing too was exceptional," said the golfer's elder brother, Govind, in Kolkata where the Atwals live. "He told me that he was playing to win this time."

The player was under intense pressure too. "He was nervous and my advice for him was not to pay attention to the scoreboard. He did look calm in the end but I know how nervous he was," Govind said.

This was Atwal's 11th professional title since he turned professional in 1995. Atwal has played 120 events in PGA Tour and made cuts in 63 events. He is the one of the leading players on the Asian Tour, topping the Order of Merit in 2003. Atwal also became the first man to win a $1m on the Tour by winning the Hero Honda Masters on home soil in the same year.

Atwal was the second Indian golfer to earn membership of the European Tour.