Panasonic Open - Mukesh Kumar makes Asian Tour history

With the victory, the 51-year old Mukesh Kumar, who hails from Mhow, became the oldest first-time winner on the Asian Tour.

Mukesh Kumar - winner of the $400,000 Panasonic Open golf title.   -  Special Arrangement

It was a short putt, from under two feet. But in the context of the title-race for the $400,000 Panasonic Open, it was the biggest putt of Mukesh’s Kumar’s career spanning 32 years.

Mukesh gently stroked the ball into the cup, took out the ball, removed his cap and raised his arms to acknowledge the cheers from his vociferous supporters. With this, the 51-year old from Mhow also became the oldest first-time winner on the Asian Tour.

For the record, Mukesh’s winning tally of 10-under 206 was one stroke clear of Jyoti Randhawa and Rashid Khan. The duo had waited patiently for a possible playoff, praying silently for Mukesh to err as the veteran prepared to put finishing touches to his campaign. But Mukesh did not falter.

Mukesh’s first international title was worth $72,000 and the glittering winner’s trophy. Jyoti, who caught up with Mukesh at seven-under and nine-under during the round, could watch helplessly as Rashid matched his tally to be joint-second. Both received $34,600.

The day was all about Mukesh and his tryst with destiny. As per his count, this was the 124th career-title for him and he had no intentions of revising his plans of retiring after 125 title.

“This Asian Tour title took a long time coming. My friend Feroz Ali (a former Indian Open champion) use to tease me saying, “You are yet to win on the Asian Tour.” Today, I realise what it means to win on the big stage. The hardwork of all these years has paid off,” said a jubilant Mukesh.

Mukesh started the day with a two-stroke cushion but once he dropped a shot on the third hole, four players – Randhawa, Khalin Joshi, Shankar Das and Sri Lankan Mithun Perera – joined him.

For one, who maintains that he never looks at the leaderboard, was unaware of his new-found company. “Luckily, I didn’t know that four players had caught up,” said the champion while looking back at his round.

The birdies on the seventh and eighth holes helped Mukesh regain his two-stroke lead as he moved to nine-under. Randhawa, playing two groups ahead of Mukesh, caught up with the eventual winner after birdies on the 14th and 15th holes.

“This was when I was a bit worried,” said Mukesh as he confessed having seen the leaderboard. “But I stayed focussed and I finally managed to drain a 20-foot birdie on the 15th hole. This was when I seriously thought I could win the title,” remembered Mukesh.

He could have virtually sealed the title on the short, par-3 17th had his five-foot birdie-putt not lipped out. “I wanted it desperately because the birdie would have given me a two-stroke lead going into the final hole.”

Once on the 18th tee-box, Mukesh learnt that Randhawa had finished at nine-under. “When I hit my third shot to reach the edge of the green, I knew that I had to be careful with my two putts and the title would be mine. So from 15 feet, that’s what I did.”

Indeed, in an era where young champions are in vogue, Mukesh has scripted a new chapter and made the not-so-young professionals believe that experience still had place in modern sport.

The scores (with prize-money in dollars):

Mukesh Kumar (67, 69, 70) (72,000) 206; Jyoti Randhawa (67, 72, 68), Rashid Khan (67, 72, 68) (34,600 each) 207; Mithun Perera (Sri) (70, 68, 70) (20,000) 208; Honey Baisoya (73, 69, 67) (16,400) 209; Shankar Das (71, 67, 72) (13,320) 210; Shamim Khan (67, 74, 70), Sanjeev Kumar (71, 69, 71), Kapil Kumar (68, 72, 71) and Khalin Joshi (67, 71, 73) (9,350) 211.