Golf: India’s Atwal makes emotional PGA return with 63 in Bermuda

MIAMI – India’s Arjun Atwal, idled while grieving his father’s death, returned to competition by firing an eight-under 63, one off the lead after Thursday’s opening round of the PGA Bermuda Championship.

American Austin Smotherman, ranked 303rd, fired his career-low PGA score with a bogey-free 62 to match Australian rookie Harrison Endycott for the lead at the windy seaside Port Royal course in Southampton.

But the best feat belonged to 49-year-old Atwal, who shared third with Americans Scott Brown, Adam Schenk, Denny McCarthy and Robby Shelton.

Atwal only got into the field on Thursday morning after American Nicholas Lindheim withdrew due to a back injury.

“I got here around 7.30, hit a few wedges and then went in to eat breakfast,” Atwal said. “About 8.45 my caddie texted me. He’s like, oh, 9.10 we might have a game. So I left my breakfast, came out, hit a few drivers and off we went.”

Atwal began on the back nine and promptly birdied his first three holes, then closed the side with back-to-back birdies before taking his lone bogey at the first. He answered with back-to-back birdies at the par-five second and par-three third and added two more at the sixth and par-five seventh.

Atwal has fallen to 2,815th in the world golf rankings after being rocked to the core and returning to his homeland in the wake of family tragedy.

“I haven’t played much golf. I lost my father about three months ago in India, so I went over there,” Atwal said.

“I’ve never had a loss in my immediate family. It’s my first one, so it’s really hard to deal with. And with my parents, they lived in India. My mom still lives in India. Not having seen them for all these years, it was really tough on me.”

Only in the past week has golf found a place back in his life.

“I just haven’t played golf – and forget walking,” he said. “I played 18 holes at Isleworth last Friday in our Scotch game in a golf cart and it’s not the same as this place, so I’m really pleased I got the 18 holes in and I’m not worn out as such.”

That Isleworth round was the first time he played since July at the PGA 3M Open.

“I hadn’t touched my clubs since,” he said.

Atwal won his only PGA title at Greensboro in 2010. He won three titles on the European Tour, most recently at the 2008 Malaysian Open, and took eight victories on the Asian Tour, most recently at the 2014 Dubai Open.

“The game is just a game. I take it for what it is now and I have nothing to prove to anybody. I’ve won out here, I’ve won on the European Tour, the Asian Tour and I’m looking forward to the 50 tour (Champions) next year after March,” Atwal said. AFP

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