Pune: Chandigarh’s Harendra Gupta literally ‘pulled a rabbit out of the hat’ on the final day of the inaugural Pune Open as he conjured two late birdies to dash to the finish line ahead of Sri Lankan Anura Rohana and Delhi’s Rashid Khan. Gupta, who shot a final round of five-under-67, ended the tournament with a total of 15-under-273 to bag his ninth professional title.
Rohana, who came up with the day’s best effort of eight-under-64, had to settle for tied second place at 14-under-274 along with Rashid, who also fired a 67 in round four of the Rs. 30 lakh event.
Harendra Gupta (72-65-69-67), lying overnight tied second, one off the lead, made a steady start to the day with three birdies on the first 11 holes, to keep himself within striking distance of the leaders Rashid Khan and Anura Rohana. His first three birdies were all on the par-5s, fourth, ninth and 11th where he made some good chip-putts.
Gupta was one stroke behind Anura and Rashid at 13-under when he stepped on the 16th tee. At that stage Rohana and two-time Asian Tour winner Khan seemed all set to battle it out in a playoff.
However, Gupta, who won his last event in Hyderabad in February 2015, had other plans. He first tied the leaders by converting a crucial 10-footer for birdie on the 16th, yet another par-5. The 31-year-old then overhauled his nearest rivals by putting his way to the title with an unbelievable 20-feet birdie conversion on the 18th. Harendra’s curling downhill putt stopped at the lip for a second before falling in.
The dramatic final-hole birdie sparked off wild victory celebrations by Gupta and his friends who joined him on the green to do the ‘champion’ dance which is currently the flavour of the season thanks to the West Indies’ win at the World T20.
Harendra took home the winner’s cheque worth Rs. 4,50,000 and as a result climbed from 21st place to sixth position in the Rolex Ranking.
An ecstatic Gupta said, “I had a feeling that I can make that long putt on the 18th since I was due for one long conversion, having missed all day. When it did fall in, my emotions got the better of me. It’s great to win it like this, coming from behind right at the end. I’m happy to win after over a year.
“The tough 10-feet conversion on the 16th set it up for me. Since I have the best playoff record on the PGTI, having won three and lost none, I knew I had a good chance even if there was a playoff between Anura, Rashid and myself. I attacked the pin for birdie on the 17th as well but just missed out.
“I had set a target of five to six under for the day and was looking to play my own game and not follow the leaderboard. My approach shots were excellent today. I would like to thank my friend and fellow professional Md Sayum for helping me sort out issues with my swing last week. His advice played a major role in my win this week.
“Last evening, I had decided along with my friends Vinod Kumar and Maniram Sharma, that if I win, we would all do the ‘champion’ dance together just like the West Indian cricket team did after their World T20 win last week.
“I would now look to contend in the race for the Rolex Player of the Year. Qualifying for the Asian Tour next year is also another major goal,” added Gupta, who took home a bicycle from Starkenn as his prize, in addition to the winner’s cheque.
Anura Rohana’s 64 featured an eagle, seven birdies and a bogey. It would’ve been a totally different story had Rohana’s chip for eagle not lipped out on the 16th. He also missed a birdie on that hole from a mere three feet.
“It was a great putting day for me as I sank as many as five birdie putts from a range of seven to 10 feet. However, the birdie miss from short range on the 16th proved costly. Nonetheless, I’m pleased with the final round comeback. The runner-up finish here strengthens my position in the rankings as I move up from sixth to fourth,” said Rohana, who had started round four in tied ninth place.
Rashid Khan, who like Harendra, shot a bogey-free 67 on Friday, shared second place with Anura.
Round three leader Shamim Khan of Delhi slipped to fourth place at 11-under-277 after a final round of 72.
Chandigarh’s Ajeetesh Sandhu (10-under-278) was fifth, rookie Veer Ahlawat (nine-under-279) of Delhi was sixth while round two leader Mandeo Singh Pathania (eight-under-280) of Greater Noida finished seventh.
Kapurthala’s Gaganjeet Bhullar and Bengaluru’s Udayan Mane were joint 10th at six-under-282.
Sagar Raghuvanshi was the highest-placed among the Pune professionals. He secured tied 39th at six-over-294.