Veer Ahlawat takes away Masters Golf Championship
DIGBOI: Gurugram’s Veer Ahlawat lived up to his first name ‘Veer’ which means ‘Brave’ in Hindi, as he put up a brave display in the final round of the IndianOil Servo Masters Golf 2019 to earn his maiden title.
The 23-year-old Ahlawat (69-64-68-72), the overnight leader by three shots, struck an eventful even-par-72 on the last day to come through in a humdinger of a contest by one shot at 15-under-273 after seeing off a tough challenge from veteran Mukesh Kumar of Mhow at the Rs. 60 lakh event played at the Digboi Golf Links.
Veer, in his fourth season as a professional, thus ended a long wait for his breakthrough win. Ahlawat, fresh from his career-best Asian Tour finish of tied eighth at the Panasonic Open India last week, also continued his hot streak as a result of his sensational triumph. The victory lifted Veer from seventh to third place in the 2019 TATA Steel PGTI Order of Merit.
Mukesh Kumar (74-67-65-68) and Bengaluru’s M Dharma (67-67-70-70) finished tied second at 14-under-274. Mukesh’s dramatic last round 68 brought him within sniffing distance of a record seventh title at Digboi.
Veer Ahlawat, the runner-up in 2017, had a slow start like his previous rounds when he bogeyed the first after missing a short putt. However, the six-foot four-inch-tall golfer from the DLF Golf & Country Club, then capitalized with birdies on the first three par-5s, the seventh, ninth and 11th, at the cost of a bogey on the 10th.
Meanwhile, Mukesh Kumar came up with some great iron shots to land it close and set up birdie conversions within four feet on six of the first 11 holes. Mukesh had tied Veer for the lead after 11 holes.
The 54-year-old Mukesh’s title prospects became bright when Ahlawat conceded a two-shot lead to him after making a double-bogey on the 14th where he had an ordinary second shot and a three-putt. But the long-hitting Veer kept his nerve and came right back into the contest with a 17-feet eagle conversion on the par-5 15th to draw level with Mukesh once again.
The drama continued with Mukesh, a former Asian Tour winner, struggling with his putting on the final stretch as he made three-putt bogeys on the 17th and 18th to hand Ahlawat, playing one group behind him, a precious two-shot lead.
Ahlawat, who lost out in a playoff to Shamim Khan at the 2017 edition, was not to be denied this time around as he made a brilliant recovery on the 17th with a chip-in for par after finding the hazard with his tee shot. Veer finally sealed the title despite a bogey on the last hole.
Veer, who proved his mettle by neutralizing the threat from Mukesh’s final day charge, said, “I just played in my natural attacking style. I missed some short putts early on in the round but more than made up by capitalizing on all the four par-5s. I was five-under on the par-5s in round four with an eagle and three birdies.
“The 17th was the crucial role for me as I knew that I had to at least make a par there in order to have a comfortable two-shot lead going into the last hole which would almost seal my win. I was in trouble with my first two shots on that hole but luckily I got relief with a free drop after my second shot. Thereafter, the chip-in came just at the right time for me and gave me that two-shot cushion going into the last hole which helped me relax and raised my confidence.
“It’s a big relief to finally get a title under my belt as I had come close to winning on a few occasions in the past. I struck the ball really well this week and also chipped and put well. I made the par-5s count through the tournament and my driving distance was a big positive. I averaged about 310 yards with my drives.
“My good form continues as I had a terrific outing at the Asian Tour event last week as well. I would now look to carry this form to the last few events of the season. I’m looking at making a huge improvement on my previous best finish on the PGTI Order of Merit which was 11th in 2018,” added the lanky Ahlawat, the son of an Army officer.
Veer collected a prize purse of Rs. 9,69,900 and five valuable Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points for his victory in Digboi. He is now set to make major gains from his current world ranking of 1094 when the updated world rankings are released on Monday.
Meanwhile, M Dharma’s short-game was not up to his expectations on the final day as he picked up four birdies but also conceded two bogeys during his 70 and never really seemed to be in a position to take the lead.
Bengaluru’s Abhishek Jha (71) took fourth place at 13-under-275.
Shamim Khan of Delhi, the winner of the last two editions, finished tied 24th at four-under-284.