Indian American Akshay Bhatia claims dramatic win, books Augusta Masters spot

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San Antonio, Apr 8 (PTI) Indian American golfer Akshay Bhatia prevailed in a playoff to script a dramatic win at the valero Texas Open and earn his spot at next week's Augusta Masters, his first berth into a major tournament.

It was virtually the last spot left at the Augusta Masters and Bhatia claimed it after staving off a serious challenge from Denny McCarthy, who birdied eight of the last nine holes at the TPC San Antonio here.

The 22-year-old Bhatia (67), who started the day four shots ahead, went six clear before a stunning back-nine rally by McCarthy saw the two players tied at 20-under after 72 holes.

Bhatia then produced a 12-foot birdie to force a playoff and made birdie on the first extra hole to register an impressive wire-to-wire victory.

The win gets Bhatia into the Masters, a wish and promise he had made to his mother years ago.

"This is awesome,” he said.

"It's hard to win out there as it showed today. My mom's birthday was April 1 and her wish was to go to the Masters." The win earned Bhatia in excess of USD 1.6m and 500 FedEx He also qualifies for the US Open with his second PGA TOUR victory, and he moves to No. 34 in the world.

Rory McIlroy closed with a 66 to finish alone in third position in his final event before the Masters, the one major keeping him from the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy was runner-up and won in consecutive weeks in Dubai to start the year. This was his first top 10 on the PGA TOUR. He finished nine shots out of the playoff.

McCarthy birdied his last seven holes and eight on the back nine as he shot nine-under 63 to rise to 20-under, while Bhatia who had one bogey in the final round shot five-under 67. They played in the final group together.

Then in an even more dramatic manner, Bhatia, 22, seemed to have a shoulder problem which needed medical attention midway through the play-off hole.

Despite that Bhatia birdied and McCarthy after a brilliant run put his shot into the water from 99 yards.

"I felt so uncomfortable all day today. I got off to a great start and kind of just tried to stick as much as I could to my game plan. But when you see someone charging at you and you’re playing with him, it’s really hard because you feel like you’re just slipping away," Bhatia said. McCarthy was six shots behind when the back nine began at the TPC San Antonio. Eight birdies in the last nine holes, provided a twist and put Bhatia under immense pressure. Then came the final twist as McCarthy found water and Bhatia landed a birdie.

Bhatia after his 67 raised his arms and felt a twinge in his shoulder, which has bothered him in the past. He felt his shoulder pop out of its socket.

Bhatia hit his tee shot and laid up with a 5-iron on the par-5 18th in the playoff. McCarthy found water and Bhatia called for medical help to get his shoulder taped. He came back and hit a wedge to 6 feet. He needed three putts to win but got a birdie.

"This shoulder I've had some issues with and yeah, when I made that putt and I kind of raised my arm, it kind of came out of socket and went back in," Bhatia said afterward.

"Thankfully he was still around and taped it up good and it felt good hitting that wedge shot. I appreciate (physio) Aki (Tajima) very much." Bhatia, who turned pro in 2019, won at the Barracuda Championship last summer and it was an Additional Event during The Open Championship. So he did not get a Masters call.

Ten years ago, Bhatia played in the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at the home of the Masters. The Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals for 2024 were held this past weekend.

McCarthy had already earned his Masters place spot by being in the top 50 in the world last year. He lost in a playoff last year at the Memorial Tournament to Viktor Hovland. PTI Cor ATK ATK