India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar has withstood a white-hot finish by rising Australian star Anthony Quayle to win the Fiji International presented by Fiji Airways.
His 14-under total proved to be one shot too many for the 23-year-old Queenslander, who shot an astonishing nine-under 63 for a new course record but not the Sunday silverware.
Kiwi Ben Campbell (66) and South Africa’s Ernie Els (65) were two strokes back on 12-under par in a tie for third at Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course.
The par-5 17th has been Natadola Bay’s most vulnerable hole this week and it was the scene of the best entertainment late in the day when Quayle and Bhullar drained back-to-back eagles.
Quayle snatched the lead at 13-under par – capping off an unconscious stretch of nine gained strokes in 13 holes – with a brilliant eagle 3.
But Bhullar responded right away, the 30-year-old snatching back the lead he held overnight with a 40-yard chip-in from in front of the green just moments after the Australian hit the clubhouse.
That saw the world No.163 leapfrog Quayle and regain the lead, making a par up the last for a one-stroke victory and a fourth Asian Tour title in three seasons.
“To be honest, I was mentally prepared for that,” Bhullar said of Quayle’s unbelievable final round. “I knew somebody or another had to go low today. Even Ernie Els, he’s a legend, he was playing really well.
“I still had hopes, I still had kind of a feeling that I can still win the tournament. But I think that chip‑in on No.17, that pretty much closed the deal . . . I could have easily missed the up-and-down and settled for second or third.”
A reassuring chat with tournament host and local legend Vijay Singh on Saturday night had Bhullar dreaming of victory on Sunday.
“We just bumped into each other,” said Bhullar. “He said ‘Son, you’re ready to win this tournament. Just be aggressive, give 100 per cent and the golfing gods are going to be on your side’.”
Bhullar began the day one shot clear of the field and, despite typically blustery conditions, the Indian fired his best score of the week when he needed it most. And while the wedge at 17 will be credited for helping the Indian to victory, brilliant pars at 10 and 11 were the catalyst for Bhullar’s back-nine surge.
With Bhullar, Quayle, Campbell and Els all within two shots of the lead, the Indian saved par from the fringe to kick start his back nine, before holing another bomb on 11 to avoid dropping a shot.
“I think that was a turning point,” said Bhullar. “That gave me a boost, a lot of confidence. After that, it was just one shot at a time and I was just able to execute. It was a tough day. It was windy, flags were tough, but I played really well.”
Four-time Major champ Els lived up to his billing with a third-placed finish – his first top-10 anywhere in the world since June 2016 – alongside Campbell, who made great strides in locking up his Asian Tour card for next season.
“I did almost as much as I could,” said Els. “I set out to try to shoot 65, which I did, and Anthony just played unbelievable. Jeez, what is it, 29 on the back nine? That’s unbelievable stuff.”
West Australian Jarryd Felton rounded out the top-5, joining Bhullar as the only other player to break par in all four rounds.
Meanwhile, tournament host Singh saved his best until last, signing for a Sunday 68 to finish in the red numbers for the week. Singh improved every round on the course he designed, carding rounds of 76, 72, 71 and 68 to leave the him pleased that he finally managed to “beat the course”.