Shanghai: Chinnaswamy Muniyappa has always dreamt of playing with Tiger Woods, but friends around him always though it was just another one of those wild dreams. But that dream is going to come true this week, when he tees up in the same event as the man who has ruled world golf for more than a decade.
Playing in his rookie season, Muniyappa had put his dream on the backburner while trying to secure his full Asian Tour card for 2010. But then suddenly in one magical week, the 32-year-old is not just sure of the card, but is also exempt for next two years and will now stand shoulder-to-shoulder with golf greats including Tiger and Phil Mickelson at the WGC-HSBC Champions.
"My dream has always been to play with Tiger," Muniyappa said here Tuesday. "I can`t imagine that I`m going to be in the same event with him. "Last year, I was watching the big events on TV and I saw Jeev (Singh) winning in Singapore. I asked myself when will I have the chance to play in such big events and I worked really hard. Now, I`m here."
He is amongst four Indians in the 11-man Asian Tour group at the Sheshan International Golf Club for the historic first staging of a World Golf Championship event in Asia.
Muniyappa earned his spot in the $7 million showpiece through his sixth place position on the Order of Merit at the cut-off point for qualifying, thanks to a career breakthrough victory in the Hero Honda Indian Open last month.
A man who caddied for one rupee during his childhood, he has had the opportunity to shoot for a staggering $13 million over the past three weeks on Tour. "I`m going to try to play my best golf here. In Singapore last week, I didn`t play well as I didn`t have a visa ready for China and I was worried about that. But it was a good experience competing on a tough course. I feel lucky to be here," said the man from Bangalore.
It has been hard work rather than sheer luck which has brought Muniyappa to golf`s biggest stage. He entered his first Asian Tour Qualifying School this year after mustering enough confidence to do so following a first domestic victory last year after more than 10 years in the play-for-pay ranks.
During the final round of Q-school, Muniyappa fell outside the top-40 with four holes remaining after a bizarre incident where he lost his ball despite hitting a perfect drive down the 15th fairway.
"I declared a lost ball but when we walked up to my second ball, I found the first ball lying on the fairway! I was so angry and made double bogey," he said.
"At that point, it was the most pressure that I`ve ever felt in my life, even more than what I experienced in the Indian Open play-off. If I didn`t make the top-40, I would not be able to play on the Asian Tour for a year. I knew I had to birdie a few holes coming in, and I managed to do so on 16 and 18."
Muniyappa`s emergence certainly mirrors the wonderful rise of Indian talent coming through on the Asian Tour.
This week would mark the first time that four Indians, the others being Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa and Gaganjeet Bhullar, are featuring in a WGC event.
Bhullar, a talented 21-year-old who won the Indonesia President Invitational in July, said: "Four Indians in a WGC event, it`s the first time in our history. We are producing so many international players and it`s a great sign for Indian golf.
"It`s all thanks to Jeev, Jyoti and Arjun (Atwal) who have played well over the years and given the rest of us the inspiration to emulate them," said Bhullar.
After earning his Major stripes when he qualified for the British Open this year, Bhullar will also be Tiger-hunting in Shanghai. "I`m so excited. I saw Tiger at the British Open and it was so inspiring for me. I`m looking for a great week.
"It feels good to be in a WGC event. The last two years, I`ve worked really hard and I want to work harder to get into contention at the big events."
The other Asian Tour stars in the field include Thailand`s Thongchai Jaidee, Chapchai Nirat and Prayad Marksaeng, Anthony Kang of the US, Japan`s Daisuke Maruyama, Singaporean Lam Chih Bing and Chinese Taipei`s Lin Wen-tang.
Korea`s Yang Yong-eun, Asia`s first Major champion, will also challenge for the HSBC Champions title which he won in 2006.