Akshay Bhatia seals a thrilling win in Valero Texas Open, secures Masters' berth

Indian-American Akshay Bhatia held his nerve in a tense finish and held off a brilliant late run by Denny McCarthy to win the Valero Texas Open

San Antonio, Texas, April 8 (IANS) Indian-American Akshay Bhatia held his nerve in a tense finish and held off a brilliant late run by Denny McCarthy to win the Valero Texas Open in a sudden-death playoff. It also earned him a place in next week’s Masters.

Bhatia will join another Indian-American Sahith Theegala at the Masters.

Bhatia nearly ran away with the tournament, holding a six-shot lead entering the 10th hole before McCarthy birdied eight of the final nine holes — including seven straight to finish — to reach 20-under par and put the pressure on Bhatia. Bhatia then made his 11-foot birdie putt to force a playoff. He birdied the first playoff hole while McCarthy double-bogeyed, sealing his second career PGA Tour win.

Rory McIlroy was third, but nine shots behind Bhatia and McCarthy.

Bhatia made news at a young age when he turned pro at 17 after an illustrious junior golf career. Instead of going the college route, Bhatia went through the struggles of professional life, missing seven straight cuts in 2020 and losing his tour card in 2021. He then earned back his card in 2022 and went on to win the 2023 Barracuda Championship, an opposite-field PGA Tour event that earned him no points.

Bhatia turned a corner entering in 2024. He was Top 15 at The Sentry, the Sony Open and the Farmers Insurance Open. He missed the next three cuts but is now on a run of T17 (Valspar), T12 (Houston) and a dominant win this week in San Antonio against a solid field. He will also play the US Open.

Bhatia went wire-to-wire for the big win. He opened Thursday with a 63 to take a three-shot lead at TPC San Antonio and never let it go. He entered the weekend with a five-shot lead, but maybe most impressive was how he weathered some slight Saturday struggles to reduce the lead to just one. His response was to go four-under on his last 10 holes and carry a four-shot lead into Sunday.

Bhatia did little to give his lead away. He birdied three of his first four holes Sunday and bogeyed just one hole all day to shoot a 67. McCarthy’s 63 put the pressure back on Bhatia, and Bhatia weathered a shoulder injury down the stretch to win.

McCarthy forced a playoff with an incredible string of eight birdies over the final nine holes, and after he buried a seventh straight birdie putt on 18, it appeared he might be poised for his first PGA Tour victory.

Bhatia responded with a huge birdie putt of his own on the tournament’s 72nd hole, and then watched as McCarthy made a surprising and fatal mistake by chunking a wedge from 99 yards out on the playoff hole — and splashing it into a creek.

It was Bhatia’s second PGA TOUR victory in his 54th start at the age of 22 years. Both wins have come in playoffs (2023 Barracuda Championship, 2024 Valero Texas Open. He moves up to No. 12 in the FedExCup standings and is now fully exempt through the 2026 PGA TOUR season.

He also earns a final spot in next week’s Masters Tournament and entry into the four remaining Signature Events this season.

He also became the first Drive, Chip and Putt participant to play in the Masters, having played in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals in 2014, finishing sixth place overall in the boys 12-13 age group.

Despite holding the outright lead after the first three rounds and a share of the lead at the end of regulation, the victory isn’t considered an official wire-to-wire win since it went to a playoff.

He also became the first lefthander to win the Valero Texas Open since Eric Axley in 2006.



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