GREENSBORO, N.C. (USA) – A month can be a long time in golf. Just ask Arjun Atwal.
Within weeks of losing his playing privileges on the U.S. PGA Tour, 37-year-old Atwal assured himself of work for the next couple of years by winning the Wyndham Championship Sunday.
Not only did he become the first Indian-born player to win on the PGA Tour, but he also achieved another uncommon feat: He became the first Monday qualifier to claim victory on the circuit since 1986.
Making his 120th start on tour, the former Asian Tour Order of Merit champion closed with a 3-under 67 Sunday at Sedgefield Country Club, giving him a four-day total of 20-under 260 – enough for a one-shot win over American David Toms.
On a tense day when no fewer than seven players shared the lead at one point, joint third place went to Australian Michael Sim and the American trio of John Mallinger, John Rollins and Justin Leonard.
“I told my caddie, ‘We’ve got nothing to lose this week. Just go out there and try and win it,’” said Atwal, who banked $918,000 in earnings. “Guys are going to be out there trying to secure their FedEx Cup spots or whatever. We’ve got nothing. I don’t have a card. I don’t have anything. Just go out there and free-wheel it, and that’s what I did this week.”
Level at the top of the leaderboard with three holes remaining, Atwal made his move at the par-3 16th, striking his tee shot within six feet and making the putt to regain the outright lead. He then held his nerve, parring the final two holes, sinking a seven-footer on the final green.
As his ball dropped, Atwal dropped his putter and extended his arms. It was a moment he will savor for the rest of his career.
Atwal, who has won on the European, Asian and Nationwide tours, certainly has been through plenty during the past few years.
He is ineligible for the playoffs and lost his tour card last month because he was too low on the money list when his minor medical exemption ran out. That came after he said he returned too soon following weightlifting injuries to both shoulders.
Three years ago, a driver trying to race him down on an Orlando, Fla., street died in a crash. Atwal was cleared of any wrongdoing, but the year-long investigation took an emotional toll.
Countryman Jeev Milkha Singh, who in 1996 became the first Indian to break into the top 100 of the Official World Golf Rankings, said India will be uplifted by Atwal’s story.
“This is an important win for the country of India,” said Singh, who finished T-18 this week. “All the children in India will be inspired by his victory, and it will help grow the sport. Arjun is a fighter. He did not get down after his injury last year and losing his status on the tour.”
Lucas Glover made five consecutive birdies, sinking four putts from 14 feet or beyond, to catch Atwal, then briefly had the lead all to himself with a birdie on No. 9 that put him at 20 under. That didn’t last long: He sent his drive on No. 10 into the rough and three-putted for bogey, and slipped out of contention after he was 3 over on the back nine.
“I didn’t make anything coming in,” Glover said. “Don’t win doing that.”
The Wyndham marked the last chance for players to pick up points for the FedEx Cup playoffs that begin next week in New Jersey.
Michael Letzig, who arrived at Sedgefield at No. 125 on the points list, finished 14 under to move to 118th place, solidifying his spot in The Barclays, the first playoff event.
“The goal is to give myself another tournament to play,” he said. “I’m in, so (I’ll) see what happens.”
Others weren’t so fortunate. Mallinger started at No. 163 on the points list. He initially thought a final round that included six birdies and an eagle was good enough to propel him into the playoffs. But when others joined him in a tie for third, he slipped to 132nd place in the standings – and finished roughly 40 points out of the playoff picture.
Jeff Quinney, who arrived at No. 127, only moved up one spot on the list and finished about 3 points shy of making the post-season field.
“I could have taken care of my own business today,” said Quinney, who finished 12 under.
Spencer Robinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.