His late charge was not enough to challenge Thomas Aiken, but from the time Gaganjeet Bhullar holed his final putt of the Avantha Masters, he was under siege. From the 18th green to the score recorders, a bevy of fans followed, leading to his path being cordoned off.
and the odd handshake were what they sought, but Bhullar held back and took refuge in the enclosure. Two shots back and Aiken on the 16th, thoughts of a playoff were on his mind. The minutes ticked by but Aiken did not relent, and the crowd started to thin out. A few faithfuls stayed on, but the bustle on sighting Aiken on the 18th fairway drew them away. The eight-under 64 had given the champion "little breathing space" on the final day at the Jaypee Greens, but as Bhullar said wryly, "The world only remembers the champion".
It wasn't just Bhullar who kept the South African on his toes. Liang Wenchong was also a source of concern, and had this Sunday come four years back, the 29-year-old from Johannesburg could have been in deep worry. "But I've learnt a few things since then," he smiled after a composed five-under 67, which allowed the three-shot victory.
Self-management is high on his list and plenty of it was on show even before play started. An air of assuredness about him, Aiken strode out of the clubhouse en route the driving range. He'd left little room for mistakes this week, just the two bogeys towards the end on Friday, yet he wanted to cover all the bases.
After spending time on the chipping green, bunker shots were next. Driving not on the agenda, he headed back to the putting green and stayed put till his tee-off. A foot or farther, he rarely missed.
During play, a couple, like the eagle putt on the 15th and the putt for birdie on the next, eluded him, but they did not hurt. Bhullar and Liang had pulled their weight, but by hitting the greens regularly, Aiken stayed out of reach.
"It wasn't a walk in the park," but by his second shot on the 18th, Aiken knew the kitty of euro 300,000 was his. The urge was to go easy as he went for the birdie putt. It came off; after all, it was his day. Arms raised, the eyes searched for Kate. The wife wasn't around during the win in Spain two years ago. Locked in an embrace on the green, Aiken had rectified the past.