Atwal set to return to action after 4 months in Puerto Rico Open

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Puerto Rico, Feb 24 (PTI) Veteran India golfer Arjun Atwal, who has been pre-occupied with his father's health issues, will return to action after nearly four months when he tees off at the Puerto Rico Open, starting here on Thursday.

He will be joined by Anirban Lahiri, who 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 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 a surgery after suffering open fractures to the upper and lower sections of his right leg, along with significant trauma to his ankle.

Ahead of his first tournament of 2021, Atwal, who is India's lone winner on the PGA TOUR, said, '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.' Atwal is now looking physically fit after changing his lifestyle and undertaking a new fitness regime last year.

'I quit alcohol completely. It's so good. I realised 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 bette,' he said.

'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,' added Atwal, whose career has been blighted by back injuries.

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.

While Atwal last saw PGA TOUR action in October, Indo-Swede Daniel Chopra, a two-time winner on the TOUR and a popular figure in Indian golf, last played at the Corales Puntacana Championship in September, 2020.

Lahiri is paired with Chopra and Branden Grace of South Africa in the morning, while Atwal will plays along side Scott Brown and Shawn Stefani in the afternoon wave.

This week's Puerto Rico Open field has 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 will join experienced stars like major champions Padraig Harrington and Lucas Glover. PTI Cor SSC SSC SSC