Hot Springs Village, Ark.
After shooting a 3-over-par 75 in the opening round of the First Tee Arkansas Classic, Daniel Chopra figured he still could salvage a top-10 finish if he could put together three solid rounds.
With a seven-birdie 66 the next day, a seven-birdie 68 in the third round and an eight-birdie 66 in closing April 18, Chopra exceeded those expectations.
He won. For the native of Stockholm, Sweden, who played the Nationwide Tour the previous two years, it was his first victory in the United States and put $90,000 in his pocket.
Chopra, a rookie on the PGA Tour this year after finishing sixth at the 2003 PGA Tour Qualifying School, had made only two cuts in nine starts on the PGA Tour in 2004 with earnings of slightly more than $46,000.
He returned to the Nationwide Tour last week after he was unable to get into the limited-field MCI Heritage at Hilton Head Island, S.C.
With birdies on the final three holes, Chopra edged John Elliott, who also closed with 66 and birdied the final two holes, by one shot.
Chopra, who last year finished 21st on the Nationwide Tour money list and missed getting his PGA Tour card (for those in the top 20) by $1,164, became the first Swede to win on the Nationwide Tour.
“This is big because I never had a win under my belt out here, I didn’t even have a second,” said Chopra, who made 16 consecutive cuts on the 2003 Nationwide circuit. “Now that I’ve won I think at least I’ve proven myself on the next tier down from the PGA Tour and that should give me a great deal of confidence. The main thing is no matter what happens now, I know I have a place to play the rest of this year and next, so that should take some of the pressure off.”
Chopra, who played the PGA European Tour in the late 1990s, said his PGA Tour start this year “has been a little frustrating.” Chopra improved 17 spots to No. 174 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.
Starting the day three shots behind James Driscoll, Chopra turned in 33, tied for the lead. He birdied No. 10 and bogeyed No. 12 before his final birdies.
“I was glad to see Jumbo (Elliott’s nickname) birdie 17 and 18 because that’s what you dream about, the opportunity to birdie the last couple of holes to win,” said Chopra, who two-putted for birdie on the par-5 18th.
Elliott, 40, who has been playing the PGA and Nationwide tours since 1991, was understandably disappointed.
“I’m disappointed because I was second here a couple of years ago (2001) and it’s a course I really like,” he said. “At the start of the day I thought if I shot 66 that would do it. I thought I gave it my best with birdies on the last two holes, but you have to give Daniel a lot of credit.”