Noida: Rookie N Thangaraja of Sri Lanka claimed his maiden professional title after overcoming a spirited challenge from the seasoned Vijay Kumar of Lucknow at the PGTI Players Championship at Noida Golf Course.
Thangaraja triumphed over Vijay on the fourth playoff hole after the two golfers had ended the regulations 72 holes with matching scores of four-under-284.
Thangaraja (68-72-71-73), the overnight leader by five strokes, looked all set to cruise to a comfortable win as he birdied the second and fourth holes from six feet and 15 feet respectively to build on his lead.
The 32-year-old from Colombo then dropped strokes on the ninth, 13th and 15th after hitting his tee shots to the left on all three occasions. This allowed Vijay (72-75-70-67), who shot the day`s best score of 67, a foot in the door.
Vijay, placed seventh after round three, had a steady front-nine where he made two birdies and a bogey. The 45-year-old, one of the dominant figures on the Indian professional circuit in the 1990s, then made a charge on the back-nine with three straight birdies from the 10th to the 12th and another on the 18th to take the match to a playoff.
Vijay sank 20-footers on the 10th and 11th.
Thangaraja and Vijay made pars on the first three playoff holes. Thangaraja, who only took to golf six years back at age 26, finally won the long battle of nerves on the fourth playoff hole. The Sri Lankan made an excellent chip-putt for par on the deciding hole while Vijay missed a five-footer for par.
Thangaraja has now climbed from 19th to ninth place on the Rolex Rankings. He is also placed third in the Emerging Player of the Year list.
"I started well today but then faltered on the back-nine as a result of some poor tee shots. The strategy was to make pars and play steady. I only attacked the relatively safer pins which were in the centre of the greens. I was unfortunate not to make a birdie on the 16th where I missed a chip-in by a whisker," said Thangaraja.
"Nonetheless, I turned it around in the playoff due to my focus and patience. I took my time while putting and read the lines to perfection. I didn`t want to repeat the mistakes from last week when I had the title in my grasp but ended up finishing runner-up.
"It`s great to win a title in my first season as a professional that too after defeating the experienced Vijay Kumar in a playoff. This gives me a lot of momentum and self-belief going forward," added the ever-smiling Thangaraja.
Noida`s Rahul Bajaj fired a 69 in the final round at his home course to climb from overnight joint eighth to tied third at one-under-287. Bangladesh`s Md Zamal Hossain Mollah carded a 71 to grab a share of third place along with Bajaj.
Khalin Joshi of Bangalore secured fifth place at even-par-288 after posting a 68 in the final round.