Macau: Gaganjeet Bhullar rode out a blip in the middle of the final round to card a solid three-under 68 and clinch the Venetian Macau Open title, his second title in less than a month, here on Sunday. Bhullar, who had friend and one of India's leading amateurs, Ashbeer Saini on the bag, finished with a birdie to sign off at 16-under 268, two shots clear of American Jonathan Moore, who had five birdies in his last five holes.
Making it sweeter for India was Shiv Kapur, who carded a four-under 67 to total 10-under and finish sole fifth. Himmat Rai (70) was 38th at one-under 283 and Ajeetesh Sandhu (73) was one-over 285 in 47th place. Moore (65) finished second, while Thitiphun Chuayprakong (70) of Thailand and Siddikur (66) of Bangladesh were tied third and Kapur (67) was fifth.
Bhullar had four birdies in his first seven holes and seemed to be cruising to another superb win, when he found bogeys on the 10th and 13th holes. But he pulled himself back from that with steady par, a missed birdie putt and finally a solid birdie on 18th to close with a 68.
Even as a pumped-up Moore raced home with five closing birdies to put pressure, Bhullar responded like a true champion and drained a six-foot par putt on 17 to hold on to a two-shot lead into the last hole. He then delivered a grandstand finish with a 12-foot birdie to become the first Indian winner of the Venetian Macau Open.
"This is going to take a long time to sink in. I hit the ball so good. I was just in the perfect zone. More than that, it was self-belief," said Bhullar, who earned USD 118,875 for his fourth Asian Tour victory. "This is my first wire-to-wire Asian Tour title. I think it was more that I had to prove to myself that I'm a good front runner. I had to believe in myself. I did it and it was really special," he added.
"I thought I was going to play relaxed in the last few holes. But Jonathan played really well. He holed a long putt on 17 ... I saw that. I had a good tee shot, missed on the left but the first putt, I hit it over the hole. Trust me, it wasn't an easy putt (coming back). I had to visualize the ball going into the hole a few times and that's what I did," Bhullar said.
"I think the putt on 17 was the putt of the tournament. The whole week, I just struck the ball really well. Mentally, I was focused and I was in the zone. I knew I would win it easily," said Bhullar. This is Bhullar's fourth Asian Tour title, following wins in 2009 Indonesia President Invitational, the 2010 Asian Tour International, Thailand and the 2012 Yeangder Tournament Players' Championship, Chinese Taipei.
He has also won once on European Challenge Tour, the 2011 Gujarat Kensville Challenge. Bhullar opened the week with a stunning 63 and proceeded to dominate the field with subsequent rounds of 68, 69 and 68 on the next three days. In four days, he had just seven bogeys against 26 birdies.
The 24-year-old, Bhullar, who won the Yeangder Tournament Player Championships last month, has been in red-hot form with two wins, two second places, one third place and three other top-10 finishes in a total of 15 starts. It will also put him in the race for the Asian Tour Order of Merit title with some big-ticket events to come in the next two months.
Moore, who came through the Asian Development Tour as the number one player last year, was delighted to post his best finish on the Asian Tour. His cheque of USD 81,375 has now secured his full playing rights for 2013. "To put two sixes (bogeys on par-fives at the 12th and 13th) on the card and then five birdies, I'm really thankful.
At times, I've been trying to do too much and make it happen instead of trusting it. I'm so thankful. It's amazing. It helps a lot for next year," said the 27-year-old Moore, whose wife Claire was on his bag. "I was talking about Gaganjeet earlier this week and about the great players coming out of India. He's really good ... he's had an amazing year. I have a lot of respect for him.
Last year wasn't one of his best years but look at what he's done now. That shows about the character that he has." Bhullar was in a zone as he birdied second, third, fifth and seventh to race through the front nine in a stunning 31, which suggested he was running away with the title.
The two bogeys early on back nine halted his cruise, but the young Indian talent gathered himself admirably again and closed the deal. Thai Thitiphun Chuayprakong (70) gave Bhullar a hard chase for first seven holes, but then a double bogey on eighth spoilt it all. Though he birdied ninth, he found no more on the back nine and instead dropped two shots.
The 20-year-old Thitiphun fought bravely on the front nine as he kept up with Bhullar with four birdies in his first six holes. But disaster struck on the eighth when he drove his ball out of bounds en route to a double bogey which took the wind out of his sail. Bangladeshi Siddikur finished strongly with four birdies in his last six holes for tied third as he snatched the last ticket to the WGC-HSBC Champions in China next month from the Order of Merit ahead of Scott Hend, who finished equal sixth.