June 14, 2024

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Akshay Bhatia overcomes angry rally and separated shoulder to win Texas Open and earn Masters trip

Akshay Bhatia overcomes angry rally and separated shoulder to win Texas Open and earn Masters trip

SAN ANTONIO — Akshay Bhatia nearly celebrated too early Sunday, spraining his left shoulder while pumping his arms on a 12-foot birdie putt to force a playoff. He recovered to make a birdie on the first extra hole and win the Valero Texas Open over hard-luck Denny McCarthy to earn a trip to the Masters.

It was a wild ending on so many levels.

McCarthy was six shots behind going into the back nine at TPC San Antonio when he birdied eight of the nine holes — including the final seven — to make a 12-foot birdie putt for a 9-under 63. Bhatia had to make his birdie from the same range to have a chance.

He made it to 67, He raises his arms to shake them at the moment of his fist. That's when he felt his shoulder — which he says has gotten him in trouble before — pop out of its socket.

Bhatia hit his tee shot and putt a 5-iron on the par-5 18th in the playoff.

McCarthy, who played in his 174th PGA Tour event without winning, was the first to play and cut a wedge so hard that he immediately stuck his head down. The ball came about 20 yards into the middle of the creek.

Bhatia then sought treatment and briefly went off the track to strap his shoulder. He came back and hit a 6-foot wedge. Needing three shots to win, he holed it out to win for the second time on the PGA Tour.

“Man, what a crazy, crazy day,” Bhatia said.

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The 22-year-old Bhatia, who turned professional five years ago, won the Barracuda Championship last summer. It was held opposite The Open, so he did not make it to the Masters.

Bhatia 'sticks to the game plan' at Valero Texas Open

Akshay Bhatia discusses defeating Denny McCarthy in a playoff to win the Valero Texas Open, and looks ahead to the Masters at Augusta National.

This is what he did, His first trip to Augusta National. This came 10 years after Bhatia competed in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals on the Masters Championship Course. Now he could play on more than just the 18th green, and he had fulfilled his mother's wish.

“This is great,” he said. “It's hard to win there as it turned out today. My mother's birthday was April 1 and her wish was to go to the Masters.

McCarthy had already secured his place after finishing in the top 50 players in the world last year, but all that matters at the moment is the elusive PGA Tour trophy. He lost in a playoff last year at Memorial to Viktor Hovland.

This was perhaps even more crushing under the circumstances. McCarthy appeared to have no chance after Bhatia, who started the final round with a four-shot lead, birdied three of the opening four holes and extended his advantage to six shots at the turn.

There was a two-shot swing at the 10th when Bhatia missed a 5-foot putt and McCarthy, one of the best putters on the tour, holed an 18-foot putt for birdie. Bhatia answered with a birdie on the 11th, and then it was McCarthy's show the rest of the way.

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He made a 30-footer on the 12th, holed a 5-iron on the long par 3 from 13 to 4 feet, made a 10-footer on the par 5 on the 14th, holed a 40-foot chip on the 15th and closed within a minute. He had a 12-foot birdie putt on the 16th.

Bhatia missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the accessible par-4 17th — McCarthy went up and down the rough for birdie — and they were tied to go to the 18th.

McCarthy made the birdie putt first, standing to the side, as close as he could get to winning. Then, Bhatia served a breakaway of his own to tie him at 20-under 268, setting up a playoff that ended poorly for McCarthy.

“I wish I could have kicked that wedge in there,” McCarthy said. “I dropped back a few times. There was a bug on my ball and some noise in the stands and the bug jumped back on my ball. I probably should have dropped back, but I thought I couldn't let that distract me and it probably did it a little bit. Probably a learning experience for me.” “

Rory McIlroy finished with 66 points to take third place alone in his final event before the Masters, the only major event to take him away from a career Grand Slam.

McIlroy finished second and won in consecutive weeks in Dubai to start the year. This was his first top 10 on the PGA Tour.

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“I'm in better shape than I was a few weeks ago,” he said. “It was nice to see a round like that today, and it's nice to play a golf tournament where… obviously I'm going to finish a fair number of shots behind Denny and Akshay, but still, I played solid in some tough conditions.”

He finished nine shots out of the playoff.

Bhatia will be the first player to reach the Drive, Chip and Putt finals and play in the Masters tournament. The competition was one of many innovations introduced by Augusta National. The Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship also began, with young champion Hideki Matsuyama going to pick up a green jacket.

“I got the target I was thinking about,” Bhatia said.

This includes a trip to Augusta National. He also qualified for the US Open with his second PGA Tour win, moving to No. 34 in the world.