Kolkata: It will be a special homecoming for Indian golfer Arjun Atwal, who recently won the Dubai Open, when he tees off at the prestigious Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC) for the Rs 1.5 crore McLeod Russel Tour Championship, here on Thursday.
Atwal, who battled career-threatening back injury and earned his first career victory in four years clinching the Dubai Open title, will be the star attraction in a field that boosts of the likes of Gaganjeet Bhullar, SSP Chowrasia and Rahil Gangjee -- all playing on sponsor's invite.
McLeod Russel Tour Championship 2014 is PGTI's Year-Ending Championship and it will see the top 60 players from the Rolex Rankings such as Om Prakash Chouhan, Chikkarangappa S, Shankar Das, Rashid Khan, Mukesh Kumar and Khalin Joshi compete for top honours.
However, all eyes will be on Atwal, the only Indian winner on the PGA Tour, who will be playing his first event on the PGTI and that too at his home course after a gap of more than a decade.
"It's great to be competing at my home course after 13 years. My family and friends will be coming out to support me and that makes it a special week for me," the Kolkata-born golfer said.
"The McLeod Russel Tour Championship is a great event. Aditya Khaitan is a personal friend of mine. When I turned pro in 1995 he was the only person to come up and say that he would cover my expenses and get me a head-start.
"I will never forget that as long as I live. For him to step up and put Kolkata back on the golfing map is huge. I hope more guys like him would step up and take interest in sponsoring golf tournaments," the 41-year-old said.
Atwal had been grappling with a debilitating back injury which saw him lose his card in America, and the Indian said he even considered quitting the game.
"I had a career-threatening injury and it had got to a point where I thought I would never compete again. It was therefore a relief to win the tournament in Dubai. It's great to have a full card at least on the Asian Tour," he said.
"All my friends here in India and the United States have been very helpful through my tough times. Tiger Woods has been a good friend. He was very supportive when I was undergoing rehabilitation.
Atwal said he will look to get a full PGA card next year.
"By virtue of being a winner I still have a conditional card on the PGA Tour. I'll still get five to six events on the PGA Tour next year and the effort will be to earn the full card once again," he said.
Still recovering from a wrist injury, Bhullar said he is not hitting the ball as well as he would want but he will look to get it close to the pin this week everytime he tees off at RCGC.
"I'm still in the process of recovering from a wrist injury. This will be the fourth week I'll be playing after the injury. I struggled the first two weeks after the injury as I wasn't hitting it long," he said.
"I've recovered about ninety per cent now and the injury is not really troubling me anymore. However, I'm still not hitting it as long as I usually do.
"The course conditions at the RCGC are excellent. I really enjoyed my practice round today. The key this week will be to keep it in play and landing it close to the pins," said Bhullar, who will also be playing on sponsor's invite.
Bhullar further said: "I'll now be playing on the Asian Tour next year and will focus on being right up there in the Order of Merit in Asia and on improving my world ranking."
The tournament will be a 72-hole stroke-play championship and there will be no cut applied after 36 holes. All players will be guaranteed prize money.