A dramatic finish followed by a tense play-off saw Indian golfer Arjun Atwal shrug aside his ailing back and lack of practice by registering his first win in the US at the Chattanooga Classic and with it earn a ticket back to the US PGA Tour for 2009.
Atwal, leader by three after the third round, dropped a double bogey on 16th to come back into a tie. He then hit a great eagle putt on the 18th only to see the ball just miss the cup, but then birdied the hole to finish at 24-under 264. But his playing partner and leader for the first two rounds, Webb Simpson also birdied the final hole to catch up with the Indian at 24-under and force a play-off.
On the first play-off hole, Atwal sank his birdie, but Simpson missed his from five feet and Atwal was through.
Atwal ensured a full card for the PGA Tour as his winnings from the Chattanooga Classic carried his earnings to more than $240,000 and on to the 15th place on the Money List from where the top-25 move to the main Tour.
"Yeah, it does (feel great). I've been working for this all my career. Trying to win in America, and it feels really good. And also the fact that I'm getting my card back on the PGA Tour will be it will be a sweet bonus, I'm looking forward to that," said Atwal, who this year also won on the Asian and European Tours, by taking the co-sanctioned Malaysian Open in February.
The former Asian Tour No. 1 Atwal now has Tour cards in Asia, Europe, Nationwide and PGA Tour.
"I know I'm playing Miami (Miccosukee) next week. But it depends on the Tour Championship. I might go play a tournament in China (HSBC Champions in Shanghai) for the champions of the European Tour and the Asian Tour, and I'm in it. And it's $5 million, so I might go. I am going to Singapore anyway to play the $5 million event there and the Hong Kong Open. So I might make it three in a row over there," said Atwal, who would have missed the Shanghai event if his place on PGA Tour was not secure.
It was a perfect result after starting the season with a second place in Panama Movistar and a win in Malaysia in February. But then for the rest of the season, Atwal's form swung up and down, just as it had for the past three seasons.
In the last one week he had 28 birdies and one eagle. Of his four bogeys and one double bogey, just one bogey blotted the first three rounds, while the rest came on last day.
Atwal had full seasons in 2004 and 2006 but played only 17 and 12 events in 2005 and 2007. This year he concentrated on the Nationwide in an attempt to make the top-25 and earn a ticket back to PGA Tour. He was in the top-25 midway through the season, but with his form dipping he dropped out and started this week with an ailing back and thoughts of dropping out as he stood as 34th on the Money List with just one more event and the Tour Championship left in the season.
Atwal will play the Miccosukee Championships next week and then probably come to Asia for the HSBC Champions, a $5 million event, for which he qualified as a winner in Asia and Europe. He will then play the $5 million Singapore and Hong Kong Opens.
Atwal, who shot a 66 on the first day and still trailed by five as Simpson burnt the course with a 61, had his own record-breaking round on the second day, when he carded a 12-under 60, the best on Tour this season.
A six-under on third day in this low-scoring tournament saw Atwal move three clear of Simpson and the field.
Through the day, Atwal did keep at least a share of the lead, but he was also being pursued by Simpson. Atwal's three-shot lead was cut down to two when Simpson birdied the third, and when the Indian three-putted for a bogey on the fourth and Simpson birdied the hole, the lead disappeared as both were tied at 23-under.
Atwal moved back into lead on the very next hole with a birdie on fifth, which Simpson parred and then a brilliant eagle on par-5 sixth saw Atwal back with a two-shot lead as Simpson managed only a birdie. The lead swelled to three as Simpson dropped a shot on ninth.
Atwal himself bogeyed the 10th, but made up with a birdie on the 12th as Simpson parred the first three hole on back nine. A bogey for both on the 13th saw them stay tied at 23-under.
The drama continued as both parred the 14th and Simpson birdied the 15th and the gap was again two. On the 16th, Atwal hit his drive to the right and into the lip of a bunker. He did chip out, but his third shot went into a greenside bunker and he missed an up-and-down and ended with a double bogey. Simpson just parred and was even with Atwal.
Atwal parred the par-3 17th, where Simpson went into the hazard but hit a great second shot from under a tree but was still 30 feet away from the cup. Simpson holed that great putt to save par.
On the 18th, Atwal hit a great approach and was on the green in two. His first putt for an eagle looked perfect till it straightened at the end and stopped. He did get a birdie, but so did Simpson and they went into a play-off, where Atwal birdied and Simpson missed a five-footer.