Khalin Joshi finally got the monkey off his back. After three Top-10 finishes this season, Joshi, who has twice before finished runner-up at Asian Tour events, ended his wait for a maiden triumph with a win at the eighth edition of the Panasonic Open India. He made $72,000 with the win, putting him on 16th position from 23rd last week on the Habitat for Humanity Standings with total season earnings of $222,432.
On Sunday, roaring back from two early bogeys at the testing Delhi Golf Club, the 26-year-old Bengaluru pro bounced back with six birdies, including a birdie-birdie finish as he had four birdies 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 Masters) 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.
Joshi equaled 2017 champion Shiv Kapur’s best winning score of 17-under to emerge champion, Siddikur Rahman of Bangladesh (69) was second, his third runner-up finishes 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.
Indians once again had a great week with six finishers in the Top-14 and eight in the Top-16.
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 the 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.”
He smiled and said, “I called up my friend Shubhankar, with whom I speak every day and he was thrilled. My friends have been winning like Shubhankar, Rahil, and others, so it was great to win like them.”
Teenaged 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), earning $11,506 for his efforts, the best debut position and earnings in the history of Asian Tour.
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 aggressively 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, who started the day in the share of the lead at 13-under with Siddikur Rahman of Bangladesh, fell three shots behind the latter after the first three holes. Joshi bogeyed first and third and Siddikur birdied the third.
Yet, Joshi who confirmed that he had decided to play aggressive this week, stuck to his plan and 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.”
Admittedly a 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 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 footer 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.”
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.