Thursday, December 8, 2022

Jaipur golfer Khushi Khanijau turned in a stunning birdie-birdie finish to emerge as a deserving victor in the 15th and final leg of the Hero Women’s Pro Golf Tour at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club on Friday. The 21-year-old Khushi, who turned professional in 2018, thus broke into the winner’s circle for the first time.

Khushi’s previous best was Tied-second (alongside Tvesa Malik) and behind Amandeep Drall, in her rookie year 2018, at the Boulder Hills in Hyderabad. Khushi was also the Rookie of the Year in 2018.

Khushi became the fifth first-time winner in 2021 after Jahanvi Bakshi, who added three more wins, Seher Atwal and Lakhmehar Pardesi and amateur Avani Prashanth.

Khushi, who learnt most of her early golf at the Ram Bagh Golf Club in Jaipur, shot an even par 72 on the strength of three birdies in the last four holes, during which she also had a bogey on 16th. Her round of 72, the best of the day, got her to a total of 229, one better than the trio of amateur Smriti Bhargava (77), Shweta Mansingh (77) and overnight leader Seher Atwal (80), all of whom tied for second.

As Khushi played in the second last group, she finished at 229 and waited for the final group. A birdie for any of the three, Smriti, Seher and Shweta, playing together, would have sent the tournament into a play-off. However, all three parred and stayed one behind to share the runner-up spot.

While Khushi landed four birdies, three of them in the last four holes, neither Smriti Bhargav nor Seher managed to find any birdies on the final day.

Khushi, starting the day seven shots behind the leader Seher, had a spotless front nine with one birdie on the par-4 sixth and eighth pars. She, however, suffered a setback on 10th and 11th, which she bogeyed.  However, the lead group behind her were having problems of their own. Seher was two-over, Smriti was three-over for the front nine and Shweta was four-over.

That gave Khushi a chance to make a charge, but setbacks in the form of three bogeys on 10th, 11th and 14th meant she had her task cut out over the last four holes.

Khushi got an unexpected chance as the lead group started dropping a lot of shots. Smriti was two-over for the back nine, Shweta was three-over and Seher suffered with six-over 42 on the home stretch. In contrast, Khushi was just one-over and that helped her to become the clubhouse leader. She kept that lead as the final trio was unable to make any gains on the 18th.

Shweta Mansingh of Gurgaon, who was in the running for her maiden title after the second round, was in with a chance with four holes to go as she was in the final grouping. However, Shweta dropped shots on the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to fall back to third at 231.

Overnight leader Seher Atwal had a very disappointing final day as she did not have a single birdie. Instead she dropped two shots on the front nine and had two bogeys and two doubles on the back nine for a total of 8-over 80 and fell to fourth place.

Amateur Jahnavi Prakhya was fifth, while Lakhmehar was sixth and Oviya Reddi seventh. Saaniya Sharma, Neha Tripathi and Jyotsana Singh completed the Top-10 in the final event of 2021.

Amandeep Drall, who skipped the last two weeks as she is playing in the Ladies European Tour’s Final Qualifying Stage in Spain, managed to stay ahead and win the Hero Order of Merit which has been combined for 2020 and 2021. Vani Kapoor and Jahanvi Bakshi, also playing in Spain for LET berths, were second and third.

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