Puerto Rico Open: Atwal to play for dad and Tiger as he returns to action

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India’s veteran star Arjun Atwal returns to action for the first time in four months as he tees up at the Puerto Rico Open today (Thursday). The Indian ace, who had been pre-occupied with his father’s health issues, will be joined by Anirban Lahiri.

Lahiri had last featured on the PGA Tour three weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open. The two last played at the same event in Bermuda, a holiday isle like Puerto Rico.

Atwal’s father, popularly called ‘Bindi’, has been a major influence in his golf career. The senior Atwal has rarely missed a big appearance by his son, including at the Majors.

Now, Atwal will be playing for him, as also for his friend Tiger Woods, who suffered a serious car crash on Tuesday and underwent surgery after suffering open fractures to the upper and lower sections of his right leg, along with significant trauma to his ankle.

“It’s obviously a lot of rest, but personally we’re going through some (difficult) stuff with my family. My dad’s been fighting two types of cancer. He’s getting his treatment back in India now. He was with us for the last five months in Orlando. He’s doing better. So I didn’t really touch my clubs for a couple of months, maybe three months after Bermuda, and just started practicing,” said Atwal ahead of his first tournament of the year.

He is looking physically fit after changing his lifestyle and undertaking a new fitness regime last year. “I quit alcohol completely. It’s so good. I realized I’m going to be 48 next month and I was getting to the point where my nerves weren’t quite as good around the greens. And I had seen some of my friends maybe my age or slightly older struggle with the same thing, so I figured I would just try it. As a result, I lost weight and I started working out and just started to feel better.

“I’ve got this trainer, he’s like a physical therapist and a trainer. With all my aches and pains he gets me sorted, gets me going for the day. It’s not a lot of lifts, a lot of weight training, it’s a lot more with flexibility and strength with bands.”

Lahiri, who like Atwal is a former Asian No. 1, was unable to get a start in the Waste Management Phoenix Open after losing in a play-off in the Monday qualifiers, and did not gain entry into last week’s The Genesis Invitational.

Soon after his last appearance at Torrey Pines, he said, “My game seems to be fine; I just need to get four good rounds and not drop those bogeys and doubles. Hopefully it is ironed out.”

Lahiri is paired with Indo-Swede Daniel Chopra and Branden Grace of South Africa in the morning, while Atwal plays with Scott Brown and Shawn Stefani in the afternoon wave.

The Puerto Rico field includes a few established golfers including Englishmen Matt Wallace and Ian Poulter, who are ranked No. 55 and 59  respectively on the Official World Golf Ranking.

There are other young players on the rise including Will Gordon, Joohyung Kim, Davis Riley, Justin Suh, Kristoffer Ventura and Brandon Wu who join experienced stars including major champions Padraig Harrington and Lucas Glover.

Viktor Hovland won the tournament a year ago, and broke the “curse” of Puerto Rico by winning a second TOUR tournament outside of Puerto Rico. This week, Hovland is playing the World Golf Championships-Workday Champions at The Concession.