New Delhi: Five years after turning professional following a glittering amateur career, Khalin Joshi kept seeing a whole lot of his friends scale the podium at various Asian Tour events, while he kept coming close but never closed the deal.
On Sunday, he finally crossed over from being a ‘nearly man’ to an actual champion at the Panasonic Open India. In the process, he showed great heart, amazing strength to bounce back and finally closed in style with four birdies in last five holes.
As Joshi equaled 2017 champion Shiv Kapur’s best winning score of 17-under, to emerge champion, Siddikur Rahman (69) was second, his third runner-up finish at Panasonic Open and fifth Top-10 at the event in last five starts.
Ajeetesh Sandhu (70), T-2 last year here, had one unlucky bounce on the 14th, which ended in a bogey and he Tied-3rd at 14-under with Suradit Yongcharoenchai (69). Aman Raj, 23, who still does not have full playing rights on the Asian Tour, finished sole fifth, which was his best finish on the Asian Tour, bettering his T-16 at the same event last year.
Teenager Kshitij Naveed Kaul, 17, got his pro career off to a great start as he shot 68 in the final round to tie for sixth with Jazz Janewattananond (68) and Matt Stieger (69).
Veteran Mukesh Kumar (68) and M Dharma (71) were T-10, while Karandeep Kochhar (68) and Sachin Baisoya (73) were T-15th.
Indians, once again, had a great week with six finishers in Top-14 and eight in Top-16.
Starting with a share of the lead, Joshi fell back with two bogeys on the first and third. And then he plugged the leak with six birdies and no more bogeys. He stayed firm and steady over the last 15 holes, and more so on the back nine, as others fell by the way side.
Joshi, 26, said, “I have no words honestly. It’s a huge monkey off my back. I think I played really well…Kept my nerves and played really solid coming in. The last four holes were key for me. Like all night I was thinking about the 16th hole tee shot because that tee shot has haunted me for a while now.”
On how he handled the two early bogeys, he added, “Starting off with two bogeys, I don’t know if it was nerves but just poor decision making I guess. But I still knew that there was a lot of golf to be played. I was playing well and it was just a matter of time. You know the birdie I made on eighth gave me a lot of confidence that I am not very far away and I got to keep sticking to my game plan, I got to keep playing aggressive. You know like that’s all I did. Then again I hit the driver on 18th and I played very aggressive and that’s what payed off.”
He smiled and said, “I called up my friend Shubhankar, with whom I speak everyday and he was thrilled. My friends have been winning like Shubhankar, Rahil and others, so it was great to win like them.”
Joshi has twice before finished runner-up, first at the 2015 Bangladesh Open and then at the Take Solutions in Bengaluru last year.
This year he sealed his card early with T-5 finish, while his roommate Shubhankar won the title.
On Sunday, Joshi roared back from two early bogeys at the challenging Delhi Golf Club. Joshi got his first birdie, a huge morale booster on eighth and then bounced back with five birdies on the back nine, including four in the last five holes.
Joshi became the fifth Indian to win an Asian Tour title in 2018 after Shubhankar Sharma (Maybank Championships), Rahil Gangjee (Panasonic Open Japan), Gaganjeet Bhullar (Fiji International), Viraj Madappa (Take Solutions) and now Joshi. In between Gangjee also won the Louis Philippe Cup on the Asian Development Tour. Joshi also became the seventh Indian winner in eight editions of the Panasonic Open India.
As the end neared, Siddikur made a birdie on the 17th and so did Joshi and both were tied. Asked what was going through his mind, Joshi said, “I just knew I had the advantage because he didn’t have a driver. So I just knew that I had to keep it in play. But he had a great putt. You know he made a great putt on top of me, which is unbelievable but I just believed in myself. I played aggressive and I got a bad bounce just in the rough. But hitting it in the fairways keeping it out of the bush is key over here.”
Joshi started the day in shared lead at 13-under with Siddikur of Bangladesh, but fell three shots behind after the first three holes. Joshi bogeyed first and third and Siddikur birdied the third.
Despite early reverses Joshi stuck to his week’s plan of aggressive golf. He did not make any mistakes thereafter.
“The birdie on the eighth was crucial,” said Joshi. “I knew there were a lot of holes and I could get some birdies as I had done on Saturday.”
A keen scoreboard watcher, Joshi was still three behind Siddikur when they made the turn. Ajeetesh Sandhu, 12-under to start with, was 2-under at the turn and at 14-under he was second, while Thai Suradit Yongcharoenchai at 2-under for the front nine was 13-under and also ahead of Joshi.
It was on the back nine that Joshi blazed. He birdied the 10th as his main rival managed only pars. When Siddikur bogeyed the 13th and Joshi parred, the lead was down to one as Suradit also joined Siddikur at the top.
From the 14th that Joshi shifted gears. Back-to-back birdies on 15 and 16 brought him to 15-under and suddenly he was level with Siddikur at the top, while Suradit’s birdies dried up. Tension mounted as both Joshi and Siddikur birdied the 17th to be 16-under.
On the 18th, Joshi again took out his driver and reached the top edge of the green in two, while Siddikur was three-on and had a 10-12 for birdie. Siddikur missed it, while Joshi chipped his third from the edge to six feet and rolled in the birdie for a win at 17-under. It was his 24th birdie of the week, a sign of his aggressive play.
Siddikur said, “I played better than I did yesterday actually. Khalin played really well coming down the stretch but I thought I did well too. Overall, it wasn’t bad. I am very happy with my result and I am proud of myself that I am able to put up a good fight for the title.”
Sandhu was full of praise for Joshi and said, “First, I am very happy for Khalin Joshi. The way he played all week was excellent. He is a fine player and now that he has a win, I am sure the pressure is off and he will get many more.”
Defending champion Kapur (72) was T-24th, while Jeev Milkha Singh, who hosts an invitational event next week in Chandigarh, after a 69-68 start faded over the weekend with 75-76 and finished T-47th.
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Updated Date: Oct 28, 2018 20:13:29 IST