Bhatia finishes second but gains Special Temporary Membership to PGA

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Rio Grande, Puerto Rico– Akshay Bhatia did not win the Puerto Rico Open as his quest for a maiden PGA Tour title fell just short. Yet the second place earned him a special Temporary Membership, which allows him to accept unlimited sponsor exemptions for the remainder of the 2022-23 TOUR season.

Colombian rookie Nico Echavarria finished with a 4-under 68 for a two-shot victory in the Puerto Rico Open for his first PGA TOUR title. He seemed to move into a solid position with two straight birdies on the back nine and held on for a maiden triumph. After missing four cuts in a row, he tied the tournament record at 21-under 267.

Bhatia had a win last year on the Korn Ferry Tour, where he plays regularly, closed with a 65 to finish alone in second.

Bhatia finished two back of Echavarria, but collected enough non-member FedExCup points to secure Special Temporary Membership.

For Bhatia this was an amazing result as he did not take the college route and turned pro at 17. His game was good but not consistent at times.

This time he shot 7-under 65 with four consecutive closing birdies – including a chip-in at the par-3 16th.

He said, “I can’t believe I’m crying. It means a lot. Worked really hard; it’s been a crazy journey, for sure. Last year was really disappointing; I got hurt and didn’t get my card through the Korn Ferry Tour. It’s crazy. I have so many people to thank… it’s a crazy day. Didn’t even know I shot 7 under. Chipped in three times on the same hole through this week.

“This is a great story, and I want to write a book about my life and my journey. It’s definitely going to be a really good chapter, for sure.”

Bhatia will return to action at the Valspar Championship outside Tampa in two weeks. That was where he gave his first Press Conference as a 17 year old. He gets into Valspar without a sponsor exemption as he was in Top-10.

Bhatia will look at collecting enough non-member FedExCup points to place inside the top 125 at season’s end and solidify his status for 2024.

“It’s going to be a lot of emotion,” Bhatia said of achieving Special Temporary Membership. “I know my dad’s going to really cry, which I’ve only seen him do one time. My goal this whole year was to finish No. 1 on the Korn Ferry Tour (standings), play that way, get my card that way. But you know, just a different path. I’ve been in this position before, and it really makes me happy that I’ve handled it so much better and learned from all the experiences I’ve had.

Echavarria, 28, becomes the third Colombian to win on the PGA TOUR, joining Sebastian Munoz and Camilo Villegas. The win gets him into THE PLAYERS Championship, with its $25 million purse next week at TPC Sawgrass. He also earned a spot in the PGA Championship and has a two-year exemption on the PGA TOUR.  (IANS)

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