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New Delhi: Arjun Atwal tees-off in the Hero Honda Indian Open on Thursday which is the event that got him started on the road to stardom.


Atwal hit the headlines this season by winning the Wyndham Championship to become the first Indian to win on the US PGA Tour but his victory in the Indian Open 11 years ago almost has as much significance.


“Winning the Indian Open in 1999 is one of my favourite victories. It was my first win on the Asian Tour. It gave me so much confidence as I had been on the Asian Tour four years before that without winning,” said Atwal.


He claimed the title at Royal Calcutta Golf Club that year and will bid to win it for a second time this week at Delhi Golf Club.


The US$1.25 million event is the joint richest event on the Asian Tour and boasts a deluxe field that features Thailand’s Thaworn Wiratchant, who triumphed in 2005, Sweden’s Daniel Chopra, Irishman Paul McGinley and three-time winner Jyoti Randhawa from India.


Indian Jeev Milkha Singh was forced to withdraw due to a hip injury, which also saw caused him to pull out of an event in Japan last week. He plans to rest and return next season. 


“The Indian Open is a very important part of my schedule and that is why I try and make it back every year no matter how I am playing or where I am playing. Anytime you win it is fun especially when you win in India. Winning our national Open is always a great feeling,” added Atwal.


The 37 year old’s last victory on the Asian Tour came in 2008 Malaysian Open, which was his seventh victory on the circuit. He topped the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 2003 before furthering his career in the United States.


Focusing on playing in the States finally came to fruition this season with his victory which allowed him to secure his Tour card at the 11th hour.


Said Atwal: “Winning on the PGA Tour definitely took a lot of pressure off my mind. Actually I can also feel it in my body. Before I won, all the weeks before that when I was trying to keep my card I had a really sore neck. As soon as I won it was gone. I think it was just the pressure that caused the sore neck. I had it worked on every day with the physio but nothing was working. It was obviously in the back of my mind that I had to keep my job and keep my card. Now that pressure has gone.”


As well as becoming the first Indian to win on the US PGA Tour, he was the first Monday qualifier to triumph since Fred Wadsworth at the 1986 Southern Open.


The first prize of US$918,000 bumped up his season’s winnings to US$1,507,143 ranking him 55th on the Money List.


“When I played the Monday qualifier I said to my caddie if I played like this there is no reason why I can’t win,” added the Indian.


Atwal is no stranger to success at Delhi Golf Club. He won the Hero Honda Indian Masters there in 2000 and also his very first win on the local tour in the 1995 DCM Open.


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