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Veer Ahlawat hopes to break through after Indian Open high

About 20 minutes before Keita Nakajima holed his bogey putt on the 18th to end a nervy wait for the Hero Indian Open title at the DLF Golf and Country Club on Sunday, local player Veer Ahlawat got the crowd going with a last-hole eagle to leapfrog from ninth spot to a three-way tie for second. With the crowd erupting in unison, Ahlawat traded his calm demeanour for a wide grin as the setting sun cast a golden hue on the rising star.

Veer Ahlawat in action during Indian Open(Getty)

“I am allowed to smile after a shot like that, isn’t it?” the 28-year-old would later joke. Compared to the near ideal conditions of the first three days, the field had to contend with steady breeze almost throughout the final day. It meant that long-range shots that had fetched great dividends in the first three rounds needed more precise execution.

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Ahlawat felt the brunt of the conditions too, making four bogeys on the final day — a far cry from the first three days when he had five bogeys in all.

“It was a tough final day but I managed to put together a good week thanks to some brilliant driving and iron play. The eagle on the 18th was special,” he said.

That Nakajima would run away with the title was a foregone conclusion when the final round began, given the Japanese’s four-stroke lead. The fight was well and truly on for the second spot with Romain Langasque, Gavin Green and Sebastian Soderberg all making a charge. Ahlawat, who began the day as the best placed Indian at solo sixth, slipped seven spots following bogeys on the sixth, eighth, 10th and 14th holes.

But on a course where a shot could be dropped or gained at any stage, recovery was never out of sight. Nothing exemplified the tricky conditions better than Nakajima’s one-over round where he made a double bogey on the 14th before making three bogeys, from the 16th to 18th. Ahlawat hung on until his fortunes changed dramatically on his last putt on the last hole, the eagle ensuring the best finish for a home player in the Indian Open since SSP Chawrasia lifted the trophy in 2017.

“I hit the drive really well on the last hole, but the 205-yard second hit to the flag was crucial. From there, the 12-14 feet putt was truly special.

“Midway through the round we were all fighting for second; with (Nakajima) already so far ahead, it felt like a win. To finish with an eagle in front of my home crowd, I actually felt like I won this tournament.”

While the final three holes have traditionally been the trickiest holes on this course, Ahlawat faced no real problems negotiating them. The par-5 18th, in fact, proved rather productive for him throughout the competition as his par on the opening day was followed by birdie on the next two days.

The win, Ahlawat says, has given him the confidence to assert himself after emerging as one of the most consistent performers on the domestic tour over the last few seasons. Since 2019, he has missed the cut on PGTI events only thrice. He didn’t miss a cut all of last season on the domestic tour and entered the Hero Indian Open on the back of a fifth-place finish at the Kolkata Challenge.

With the likes of Yuvraj Sandhu, Viraj Madappa, Manu Gandas and Aman Raj, Ahlawat forms a promising core of next generation golfers who are billed for international success. None of them are greenhorns, and yet none of them has been truly able to breakthrough on the DP World Tour like Shubhankar Sharma did in 2018. Sunday’s result has the potential to change that.

“I’ll take a lot of confidence from here. I have the ambition to do well on the bigger tours. Consistency on the domestic circuit has given me the belief that I belong. I am no longer scared to go deep into the competition,” he said.

The top-10 finish will grant him entry into the Korea Championships (April 18-21), giving him another chance to compete against a quality European field. His goal for the season, however, is to top the PGTI money list and earn a full card on the DP World Tour next year.

“I may not play more than 7-8 PGTI events this year, so the target will be to log as many wins as possible, which will help me top the order of merit,” Ahlawat, an Asian Tour regular, said.

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