A dramatic chip-in for an eagle from almost 25 yards on the 17th followed by a steady par on the 18th at the Fiji International presented by Fiji Airways ended Gaganjeet Bhullar’s search for a maiden win on the European Tour.
It also brought him his ninth Asian Tour win and made him the most successful Indian golfer on the Asian Tour. The first win ever by an Indian on the Australasian Tour, as the event was tri-sanctioned by Asian, European and Australasian Tours. Bhullar’s final round 66 gave him a total of 14-under 274 and he won by one shot over Anthony Quayle (63) who was 13-under. Ernie Els (65) and Ben Campbell (66) were Tied-third. It was Els’ best result since T-3 at Macao Open in 2013.
Ajeetesh Sandhu shot 71 in the final round to finsh T-43rd with a total of 2-over 290.
After three Top-10s in last four starts, Bhullar found the winning touch 20 starts after his last one at the Macao Open last year. With his latest win he overtook the tally of eight Asian Tour wins by Arjun Atwal and Jyoti Randhawa. He also became the fifth Indian to win on European Tour after Atwal, Jeev Milkha Singh (4), SSP Chawrasia (4) and Anirban Lahiri (2). He now has an exemption on European Tour till end of 2019 and till end of 2020 on Australian Tour and till end of 2021 on Asian Tour.
“This kind of good form was definitely building up for last two months, I had some good finishes, including two runner up finishes on the Asian Tour. It was just a matter of time and I'm glad it happened on this stage. I had great support from the locals, many of them Indians, who kept shouting “Bula”, which means ‘Hello’ and it also rhymed with my name. It was great fun. I enjoyed it as did my wife, who is here. I will surely be back here,” said Bhullar.
Bhullar also credited course designer and three-time Major winner Fijian legend Vijay Singh for helping him with some advice on the course and how to handle it the previous night. “I spoke to him and he offered me some advice and that kind of inspired him. I am very thankful to him as I look up to him a lot,” said Bhullar.
He added, “My local caddie was great. I asked him probably seven or eight lines this week and he was spot on. I think he was definitely a helping hand for this week's victory.
The key for Bhullar was the start. He started superbly with three birdies in the first four holes and kept his foot on the pedal. He dropped a shot on Par-4 seventh but got the back on Par-5 ninth to turn in 3-under 36. He made a crucial par save on 10th with a putt from more than 20 feet and then birdied Par-3 13th.
He said, “I think the highlight of today's round would be the first one hour of play. I was 3 under after four holes and all those four holes were really, really crucial. Had I not had a great start, anything could have happened.”
Bhullar was 12-under when came to the Par-5 17th tee. At that stage the scoreboard showed Quayle as 10-under for the day and at 14-under for the tournament. Bhullar admitted he thought he would need a birdie-birdie finish to have a chance.
Quayle narrowly missed a birdie chance on 18th, while Bhullar was still off the green with his second. He did have a similar chance for a chip in the second round. Bhullar said, “I had a little bit of an idea that this chip is going to run a lot, but it wasn't an easy chip, I could have easily missed up and down and would have had to settle for second or third. But it went and that pretty much closed the deal.”
In the meantime, a mistake on the scoreboard had also been realised.
It transpired that the scoreboard had wrongly credited Quayle with a birdie on Par-5 ninth, when it was actually a par. So, his card when he turned it in was actually 9-under and his total was 13-under.
The chip-in eagle took Bhullar from 12-under to 14-nder and past Quayle, who was waiting for the finish. Bhullar calmly landed his second shot on 18th to 10 feet and then very smartly rolled it to a tap-in for par and a one-shot win.
On the win as such, he added, “This is my ninth Asian Tour win and first on the European Tour. I think every one is special and I do have a feeling that after this, a lot of doors for me will open. I know I have said this before after winning a lot of Asian Tour events, but I think this is something really special. I think I have to sit down and work on my new schedule for next week. Definitely this week will be very special for me.”
Quayle, who started the day two shots back of Bhullar mounted a great charge especially on the back nine as he sizzled with three birdies and two eagles on Par-4 12th and Par-5 13th on his back-nine. He had six birdies, two eagles and one bogey on fourth during the day. But Bhullar outduelled him at the end.