Kuala Lumpur: Himmat Rai's heart-pounding triumph at the ISPS Handa Singapore Classic Sunday showed once more the wonderful depth of the talent pool emerging from India.
The tenacious 24-year-old secured his maiden Asian Tour victory in style when he sank a 25-foot birdie putt at the sixth play-off hole, beating Filipino Elmer Salvador at the Orchid Country Club.
Brazilian Adilson Da Silva, Tjaart Van Der Walt of South Africa and Dutchman Guido Van Der Valk were all eliminated in the second extra hole after a day of drama in the $300,000 Asian Tour event.
Rai, 24, became the second Indian to win on the Asian Tour this season, following in the footsteps of Anirban Lahiri, who also at 24 claimed victory at the Panasonic Open (India).
With the 23-year-old Gaganjeet Bhullar already a two-time Asian Tour champion, the trio represents an exciting generation of stars from India as they seek to emulate the successes of Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal and Jyoti Randhawa, all Asian Tour Order of Merit champions.
Rai's victory shot him up to 18th place on the latest Asian Tour's Order of Merit where India now has six representatives in the top-20, the others being S.S.P. Chowrasia (1st), Shiv Kapur (6th), Sujjan Singh (10th), Anirban Lahiri (11th) and Jeev Milkha Singh (15th).
For Rai, victory was redemption after struggling in the 2010 season which forced him back to Qualifying School at the start of the year.
"A lot of work has been put into the year and this means a lot to me," said Rai, whose winner's cheque of $47,550 raised his season's tally to $66,565.
Going into the last round as the joint leader, Rai fell four shots back with a double bogey on the 13th hole. But he refused to panic and stuck to his methodical routine and fought his way back with birdies on 15 and 16 to join the five-man play-off, the most players involved in a shoot-out in Asian Tour history.
He credited his Singapore-based sports psychologist Andrea Furst for his new-found focus. "I didn't know I was four back. It shows that if you go about your own business, that is the best way. I stuck to my game plan and I was really pleased with my finish," said Rai.
"The hardest part (of the play-off) was to keep my physical energy levels up and mentally keeping aware of the situation and knowing exactly how important every shot was. I stuck to that and hung tough.
"Last year, I started working with Andrea and we focused on my routine which helps when you are under pressure. She came in a good time and I thank her."
The top-60 players at the end of the season will keep their full playing rights for 2012.
The Asian Tour moves to the $750,000 Macau Open which starts at the Macau Golf and Country Club from Thursday.