Ahmedabad: Gaganjeet Bhullar became the first Indian to win on the Challenge Tour after triumphing by one shot at the season-opening Euro 200,000 Gujarat Kensville Challenge that concluded here on Sunday.
Bhullar battled with his nerves during a closing round of 75, but his five-under par 283 was enough to see off England’s Matt Ford, who signed for a round of 70 to finish just a stroke behind.
Such was the demanding nature and condition of the Jeev Milkha Singh-designed Kensville Golf Club here that only six players finished under par.
England’s Jamie Moul finished in third place courtesy best-of-the-day round of 69, whilst his compatriot Matthew Baldwin took the fourth place at two-under 286. The only other players to finish below par were Bangladesh’s Siddikur Rahman (73) and Denmark’s Mads Vibe-Hastrup (72), who shared fifth place at one-under par 287.
After opening with a bogey, Bhullar recovered by picking up a shot at the third hole, which he has birdied on all four days. He immediately gave a shot back at the next hole, and after another bogey at the tenth, Bhullar’s grip on the trophy appeared in some peril especially when Ford ran up successive birdies on the 13th and 14th.
However, Bhullar remained composed thereafter and, despite another bogey on the penultimate hole, a par on the last sealed his victory. The 22-year old rising star is now 32,000 euros richer but, perhaps more importantly, has written his name into the history books.
The lad from Kapurthala was excited with his maiden international victory.
“I’m very pleased to begin the season with a victory. Last year, I also began the season with a victory on the Asian Tour, but I cherish this moment as this is my first international victory in India.
“It was my father’s birthday on January 14, so I dedicate this win to him. I hope that this season brings me more success, and I’m now looking forward to stepping up to The European Tour,” said Bhullar.
“On Sunday the pin positions were tough, so it wasn’t easy to get birdies. On the 17th hole, I found a bad lie in a divot and ended up making bogey, so I was under pressure. But I was confident that I could still pull it off as I knew making a birdie on the finishing hole would be difficult, even though Ford was playing well.
“It will take a while for me to digest this victory, as it’s a special moment in my life. Now that I’ve got a card on the Challenge Tour, I will have to consult my parents before deciding whether to play full-time on this Tour, as it would be a quicker way to step up to The European Tour,” added Bhullar.
Ford was naturally disappointed to have missed out on his maiden Challenge Tour title, but could console himself with a cheque of 22,000 euros.
“Obviously it’s very disappointing to have lost by a stroke. On the last hole, when I heard that Bhullar had made a bogey on the 17th, I tried to make a birdie to force a play-off. But I hit my approach a bit short, and failed to make the putt. But credit to Bhullar, because he deserved to win,” said Ford.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who gave away the awards, took part in a putting duel with Bhullar for a cash prize of Rs five lakh. Surprisingly, the CM was the winner and promptly donated the money to his pet project Kanya Kelavani Nidhi, an NGO which addresses the issue of girl child education in the state.