Bhullar gives Aiken a run for money, but still finishes second at Avantha Masters

Greater NOIDA: Gaganjeet Bhullar waged a magnificent battle with a stunning eight-under 64, the best card of the final day, but still lost by three shots to the steady Thomas Aiken of South Africa at the Avantha Masters in Jaypee Greens Resort Golf Club.

The 29-year-old Aiken shot a bogeyfree 67 on the heels of a superb 62 on third day and totaled a superb 23-under 265, while Bhullar, who had predicted a 20-under total for a win, did reach that but was still well short.

It was the Aiken’s second European Tour title, while Bhullar achieved his best ever European Tour results, but that will carry him to he top of the Asian Tour Order of Merit.

Aiken’s performance on Saturday for a 62 was a ball-striking masterclass and on Sunday he carried on and carded a 67.

Bhullar waged a strong challenge, and so did China’s Liang Wen-chong (69), who also had the tournament’s only hole-in-one par-3 seventh. Liang finished at 18-under with the final round including five birdies, two bogeys, one double bogey and one ace.

Kiradech Aphinbarnrat (69) also posed a challenge at one stage, but Aiken stayed steady, and the Thai ended at 17-under in fourth place.

Bhullar apart, Himmat Rai (65) had the day’s second best round and finished in a tie for ninth place at 14-under.

Among other Indians, Jeev Milkha Singh (71), Rahil Gangjee (71) and Anirban Lahiri (71) ended in a tie for 23rd, while Jyoti Randhawa (70) was tied 29th. Rashid Khan cracked an error-free 66 and ended in a tie for tied 34th at nine-under.

Aiken said, “I’ve been playing very nicely the last four months, not making a lot of mistakes, but just not sinking enough putts.”

“This week a few went in, I hit some better iron shots which gave me a better chance to sink some putts, and I played some phenomenal golf.”

Bhullar said, “I was actually worried before this week and then I spoke to my coach. We worked on some of the mistakes I was making. We exchanged swing videos and he told me what to do. The trick today was the way my putting worked. I got off to a great start with three birdies and an eagle on fifth. It gave me the momentum that I needed.”

“I wanted to try for a win and my caddie kept motivating me. Basically no one remembers the second place guy after sometime. It is only the winner who stays in the history books. Being second or 40th does not matter. For instance my friends, fans and some may remember I was second here, but Thomas Aiken’s name will be there in the books,” he added.

Bhullar continued, “So I went for the flag on the 14th and was rewarded with a birdie. I had another 40-feet conversion on the 17th. However, I couldn’t catch up with Thomas who played a fabulous round. Aiken putted better and that made all the difference. Thomas was simply superb. And then he holed a fine birdie to finish in style.”

Bhullar came with an aggressive plan as he revealed, “The plan was to hit 14 fairways and 18 greens and make all putts in order to have a chance. I thought I’d give it hundred per cent when I started today. I was aggressive at the start and it paid off with birdies on the first three holes and an eagle on the fifth. I drove the green on the fifth for the third successive day and followed it up with a 40-feet putt.”

But he was put back by a bogey on eighth. “The bogey on the eighth came at the wrong time for me as I pulled my drive into the trees. I then sank birdies on the 10th, 14th, 15th and 17th,” he added.

If Aiken’s brilliant third round was the catalyst for victory, there was still plenty of work to do on the final day.

Bhullar came flying out of the blocks, and looked as though he may add a European Tour title to the Challenge Tour victory he recorded on home soil two years ago when he followed birdies at the first three holes with an eagle at the 356 yard par four fifth after driving the green.

Aiken’s playing partner Liang also closed in with birdies at the second and fourth, but the 2011 Open de España winner responded by holing a six footer at the second to remain two clear.

Aiken knocked in an eight footer at the fifth to go to 20 under, and when Bhullar bogeyed the eighth and Liang double-crossed his tee shot right into bushes at the sixth, took a penalty drop, and eventually three-putted for a double bogey, the South African was four ahead.

However, as quickly as Liang’s title chances looked to have evaporated they reignited with an eight iron ace at the short seventh which halved the deficit.

Bhullar birdied three of the last five to set the clubhouse target at 20 under par, but Aiken completed regulation birdies on both par fives on the back nine – he almost eagled both – then sunk a 20-footer across the final green for a fitting finale.

“These guys kept coming at me today – Liang on the front nine and then Bhullar made some amazing birdies coming in,” added Aiken. “It was by no means a walk in the park.

“I want to dedicate this to my wife Kate – being the wife of a sportsman is not easy and she supports me so much, so this one’s for you Kate.”

Bhullar’s brilliant 64 gave him second, with Liang two shots further back in third following a 69.

“I had a great week in India,” said Liang, whose only European Tour victory remains the 2007 Singapore Masters. “Although I did not win, I learnt a lot about myself, especially today. To card a double-bogey on the sixth and make a comeback with a hole-in-one on the next hole showed lots of character.

“Unfortunately I could not make as many putts as I would to, but that’s golf. You win some and you lose some. I tried my best and that’s all I can ever ask for.”