21-year old Akshay Bhatia held his nerve to overcome Patrick Rodgers in a playoff and claim his maiden PGA Tour title at the Barracuda Championship on Sunday.
While the best players in the world contested The Open, Bhatia officially punched his ticket to the big time, making birdie at the closing hole in regulation before edging past Rodgers who was unfortunate to find a divot in the fairway in the sudden-death head-to-head.
Bhatia had previously been touted as a future star of the PGA Tour when he turned professional at just 17 and while he retained status under a special temporary membership this season, the 21-year old has more than enough time on his side to fulfil his promise after coming through adversity so early in his career.
“It’s obviously been a really tough road. I’ve had a lot of up, a lot of down. A lot of good, a lot of bad,” Bhatia said.
“But I knew I was going to get here. It was just matter of time. For it to happen this year with special temporary membership and now to get to play all these events and to get it done today was, I can’t even describe it.”
Bhatia’s clutch 15-footer on the closing par-4 18th at Tahoe Mountain Club saw him set the target at 40 points in the modified Stableford format which awards five points for eagle, two for a birdie and deducts one point for bogeys and three for doubles.
It was a 72nd hole birdie that poured the pressure onto Rodgers who had a putt from around the same distance to win it outright in regulation. But it wasn’t meant to be and after finding a divot in the playoff, Rodgers chunked his approach, hit a poor pitch and two-putted for bogey as Bhatia tapped in a par for the win.
“I knew that if I got into a position like this, I could do it,” Bhatia said. “I’ve done it at every level. Man, that felt uncomfortable out there.
“That putt on 18 in regulation was just, man, it’s a crazy feeling. I was telling my caddie, like, your brain and everything, you can feel all this adrenaline, all this shakiness. It’s pretty crazy.”
While Bhatia now qualifies for the PGA and Players Championships, 31-year old Rodgers remains winless on America’s Tour. Bhatia collected a cheque worth $684,000 while Rodgers can take consolation in his $414,200 second place prize
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