Natadola Bay (Fiji), Aug 5: India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar today grabbed his maiden European Tour title with a brilliant chip-in eagle on the 17th hole for a one-stroke win over a charging Anthony Quayle of Australia at the Fiji International here.
Going into the final round, Bhullar withstood intense pressure as he holed a monstrous chip from outside the green for an eagle-three at the 17th to head into the last hole with a one-shot advantage over Quayle.
He calmly parred the last hole to turn in a six-under 66 for a four-day total of 14-under 274, which earned him a win over Quayle, who broke the course record with a nine-under 63 at the Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course.
It was Bhullar’s first win on the European Tour, ninth Asian Tour title and 10th crown overall. He now becomes the most successful Indian player on Asian Tour, overtaking the tally of eight tour wins by Arjun Atwal and Jyoti Randhawa.
He is the first Indian to win on Australasia Tour and also became the fifth from the country to win on European Tour after Atwal, Jeev Milkha Singh (4), SSP Chawrasia (4) and Anirban Lahiri (2).
He now has an exemption on European Tour, Australian Tour and Asian Tour till the end of 2019, 2020 and 2021 respectively.
“I’ve been playing really well. It was just a matter of time and I’m glad it happened on this stage,” said Bhullar, who found the winning touch after 20 starts following his last title at the Macao Open last year.
“This kind of good form was definitely building up from last, I would say, two months, I had two good finishes. In fact, more than two, but two runner up finishes on the Asian Tour.”
Besides the eagle, Bhullar also sank five birdies against a lone bogey.
The key for Bhullar was the start. He started superbly with three birdies in the first four holes and kept his foot on the pedal. He dropped a shot on Par-4 seventh but got the back on Par-5 ninth to turn in 3-under 36.
He made a crucial par save on 10th with a putt from more than 20 feet and then birdied Par-3 13th.
He said, “I think the highlight of today’s round would be the first one hour of play. I was 3 under after four holes and all those four holes were really, really crucial. Had I not had a great start, anything could have happened.”
Bhullar was 12-under when he came to the Par-5 17th tee. At that stage the scoreboard showed Quayle as 10-under for the day and at 14-under for the tournament.
Quayle narrowly missed a birdie chance on 18th, while Bhullar was still off the green with his second. He did have a similar chance for a chip in the second round.
Bhullar said, “I had a little bit of an idea that this chip is going to run a lot, but it wasn’t an easy chip, I could have easily missed up and down and would have had to settle for second or third. But it went and that pretty much closed the deal.”
In the meantime, a mistake on the scoreboard had also been realised.
It transpired that the scoreboard had wrongly credited Quayle with a birdie on Par-5 ninth, when it was actually a par. So, his card when he turned it in was actually 9-under and his total was 13-under.
The chip-in eagle took Bhullar from 12-under to 14-nder and past Quayle, who was waiting for the finish. Bhullar calmly landed his second shot on 18th to 10 feet and then smartly rolled it to a tap-in for par and a one-shot win.
South Africa’s four-time Major Championship winner Ernie Els carded 65 to finish at tied third along with Australian Ben Campbell, who brought home a card of six-under 66.
The other Indian in fray, Ajeetesh Sandhu scored 71 in the final round to end his campaign at the tied 43rd spot.
Bhullar also credited course designer and three-time Major winner Fijian legend Vijay Singh for helping him with some advice on the course and how to handle it the previous night.
“I spoke to him and he offered me some advice and that kind of inspired me. I am very thankful to him as I look up to him a lot,” said Bhullar.
He added, “My local caddie was great. I asked him probably seven or eight lines this week and he was spot on. I think he was definitely a helping hand for this week’s victory.”