Bhullar becomes youngest Indian to win on Asian Tour

Gaganjeet Bhullar

He buried the ghosts of 2007 and totalled a brilliant 22-under 266 with rounds of 69, 68, 62 and 67.

At 21, Bhullar becomes the youngest Indian to win a title on an International Tour, beating the previous record of Jeev Milkha Singh and Shiv Kapur, who were both 23 when they won their first title in Asia. Jeev won the 1994 Shinhan Donghae Open a year before the Asian Tour was born and Kapur won the Volvo Masters of Asia in 2005.

Bhullar, who flew in straight from Turnberry after making his Major debut at the British Open dominated the final two rounds, which included a stunning 10-under 62. Earlier in the season he won three titles on the Indian PGTI tour, as he marked himself as the new face of Indian golf.

"It feels good to land my first title on Asian Tour. I had earlier said that after playing the British Open, winning a title on Asian Tour was my next goal. I have been fortunate to achieve it in the very next week. After the disappointment of 2007, where I lost the title as Juvic Pagunsan had a birdie-eagle finish, it is indeed a great feeling," said Bhullar, who last week missed the cut at British Open but said he was better-off because of the experience.

He showed how well the experience had paid off. Bhullar, despite being the third round leader, finished 40 minutes before second placed Adam Blyth (68), who ended at 20-under 268. Thammannoon Srirot (66) was third at 19-under 269 and Ted Oh of Korea with a final round 69 was fourth at 18-under.

Bhullar is the eighth Indian after Jeev, Gaurav Ghei, Jyoti Randhawa, Arjun Atwal, Rahil Gangjee, Shiv Kapur and SSP Chowrasia to win on the Asian Tour. Other Indians, amateur Billoo Sethi (1965), Ali Sher (1991 and 1993) and Firoze Ali (1997) won the Indian Open before it became part of the Asian Tour.

"It was a great week. I have been very happy with my ball striking and my recent work with psychologist, Pradeep Aggarwal, who has been with me for last few months, has paid rich dividend," said Bhullar.

The title comes on the heels of three top-10 finishes earlier in the season on Asian Tour and three titles on Indian PGTI Tour. "The difference has come because of my approach. I am very positive in my approach," said Bhullar, whose father, Harbhajan Singh is a former athlete.

Bhullar started the final round one shot ahead of Blyth. He immediately struck rhythm as he birdied second, third and fourth holes to go 20-under. A fourth birdie on sixth pulled him clear at 21-under. Over the next 12 holes, he played with maturity and added one more birdie on par-5 13th and then calmly parred the remaining five holes.

The final round began in the same order as third round with 15 players, including Blyth, completing their third round Sunday. Blyth, third at Hero Honda Indian Open last year, mounted a challenge after starting one behind Bhullar after 54 holes.

Blyth was 19-under with nine holes to go. He bogeyed the tenth and then got the shot back to go 19-under again after the 12th. But over the last holes, he managed just one more birdie on the 18th and finished sole second. His earlier best was a second place behind Gaurav Ghei at 2007 Pine Valley Open.

Bhullar, who shot 23 birdies during the week had just one bogey and that came on the first day on the ninth, which was his closing hole for the first round. He played his last 27 holes without a bogey.

Last year, Bhullar had a nervous finish in the season's penultimate event, the Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open. He fired a final round 64 to finish tied 11th and pipped Adam Groom to the 65th spot on the Order of Merit, the final place for a full card by a mere US$681 and also qualified for the Volvo Masters of Asia.

Bhullar, former India No. 1 amateur, was a silver medal winner in team event at the 2006 Asian Games, after which he turned professional. Last year he played nine events and missed the cut only once.

This season he was joint 10th at the Singha Thailand Open, tied second in the SAIL Open in India and shared fifth place at the Black Mountain Masters in Thailand and then added to it by topping the International Final Qualifying in Singapore to make the British Open.

The Jakarta win ensures him a two-year exemption and more importantly greater confidence to set higher goals.

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