Arjun Atwal puts a smile on his children’s faces with Dubai Open win

‘All my wins have been away or before they were born’, the Indian golfer says as he lifts first trophy since comeback from injury. Gary Meenaghan reports.
Arjun Atwal hugs his children Krishna and Shiva after winning the Dubai Open at The Els Club on Sunday. Francois Nel / Getty Images
Arjun Atwal hugs his children Krishna and Shiva after winning the Dubai Open at The Els Club on Sunday. Francois Nel / Getty Images

DUBAI // As the crowd gathered at The Els Club, ready to watch inaugural Dubai Open winner Arjun Atwal receive a golden camel, a young boy wished his father good luck.

“Good luck?” asked Atwal, who finished on 16-under to secure the final event of this year’s Asian Tour by a single stroke. “Why do I need luck? I’m only collecting a trophy.”

The young boy’s innocence can be explained by the fact he has never seen his father win before. Atwal may be about to enter his second decade as a professional, but recent years have not been kind.

A series of back and hip injuries meant the 41-year-old Florida resident arrived in Dubai with only three wins since 2004. His last victory came at the 2010 Wyndham Championship, when he became the first Indian to win on the PGA Tour.

“They have never seen me win before,” he said of his two children, who both followed him around the par-72 course on Sunday after electing to spend the weekend exploring the city and enjoying Ski Dubai.

“All my wins have been away or before they were born.”

Atwal certainly contributed to a final day to remember.

The former Asian Tour No 1 started the day as one of four overnight leaders and received a text message from his close friend Tiger Woods, who suggested if he shot 68 “you should be good”.

Photo gallery: Former Asian Tour No 1 Arjun Atwal wins inaugural Dubai Open

When he arrived at the 17th, he was one shot off leader Wang Jeung-hun and when he bogeyed the par-3, he had all but given up.

Yet Wang, the Korean teenager, also bogeyed the 17th and, feeling the pressure, followed it up with a bogey on the last. With Atwal squeezing in his eighth birdie of the afternoon, he signed off a six-under-par 66 to win by a single shot and collect the first-prize cheque for US$90,000 (Dh330,500).

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, comparing it to my lifetime goal, which was to win on the PGA Tour, but it actually feels as good,” Atwal said.

“It’s maybe even a greater feeling because the way things went the past two years. I’ve gone through some really tough times with injuries and losing my card and all that stuff. It was at a point where I almost wanted to quit; I didn’t think I would compete again. Thanks to a few of my family and friends though, I didn’t. And here we are.”

Wang, who has not missed a cut all season, played a flawless outward 31 to lead by three shots at the turn. After his pair of bogeys at the end, though, he was visibly disappointed and blamed his capitulation on the inexperience of dealing with expectations.

“I had a lot of pressure,” the 19-year-old Korean said. “I just tried my best. I don’t have any regrets. I did my best. I just tried to play my game, but I could not do it because of the pressure. I’m still happy with my season though and I hope to learn from this.”

Atwal spoke of Wang “gifting” him the win and urged him to focus on the future.

“I got lucky,” he said. “He’s a great young player. I couldn’t believe he’s only 19. I told him on the 18th, he’s old enough to be my son. It’s a tough loss for him, but I’m sure he’s going to win a lot. He has all the tools required.”

Scotsman Simon Yates finished one shot further back, while Darren Clarke – who had started one shot off the lead – signed off with a 72 to tie for 15th place.

Chris Cannon was the highest finisher from the 11 Mena Tour players who made the cut, finishing tied for 24th place on seven under.

Mohammed Juma Buamaim, the chief executive of Golf in Dubai, said he was pleased with the inaugural event and the way The Els Club dealt with its first professional event.

He said the only improvement he would like going forward is to bring more of the top players from Asia, although he added that it is a factor off his hands.

Atwal, who won Asia’s Order of Merit in 2003, called the weekend “one of the best-run Asian Tour events I’ve ever been to. It gets my vote for No 1.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

Follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 21, 2014 04:00 AM

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