Akshay Bhatia rallies for first PGA Tour title, prolonging Patrick Rodgers' search for a maiden victory
The Barracuda Championship on Sunday came down to a tale of two prodigies, one a decade stuck in neutral, the other sprinting toward stardom—Patrick Rodgers, 31, vs. Akshay Bhatia, 21, in a playoff at the Tahoe Mountain Club in Truckee, Calif.
Bhatia, at 6-1 and 130 pounds a walking 2-iron, prevailed with a par on the first extra hole after Rodgers’ drive found a divot in the fairway, leading to a bogey that extended his streak of futility. Rodgers, a former Stanford star who shares the school record for most wins with Tiger Woods and Maverick McNealy, has now made 246 PGA Tour starts while still waiting for his elusive maiden PGA Tour victory.
“I can't even talk,” said Bhatia, playing on the PGA Tour under a special temporary membership after making good on sponsor's exemptions earlier in the season. “I mean, I knew that if I got in a position like this I could do it. I've done it at every level. Man, that felt uncomfortable out there. I made a really bad double. I hit some really bad shots. But then I just kind of made some really nice putts on eight and nine. Then started hitting really good shots coming in.”
After a birdie on the 16th hole, Bhatia came to the par-4 18th hole trailing Rodgers by two points in the modified Stableford scoring system. He then hit his second shot to eight feet and made the birdie putt, pulling him into a tie. He and Rodgers both finished with 40 points.
“That putt on 18 in regulation was just, man, it's a crazy feeling," Bhatia said. "I was telling my caddie, like your brain and everything, you can feel all this adrenaline, all this shakiness. It's pretty crazy.”
On the playoff hole, the 18th, Rodgers’ drive ended up in a divot hole. He came up well short of the green with his second shot, and eventually made bogey, while Bhatia had a routine par that included a tap-in for a victory. Thirty-six starts into his PGA Tour career, he is now eligible to compete in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
"Obviously disappointed. I felt like I had control of the tournament," said Rodgers, who missed a 12-foot birdie try on his 72nd hole that could have given him the win in regulation. "So, bummer result. Kind of a crummy break there in the playoff. In the middle of the fairway to drive it in a divot. But that's just the way it goes. I'll come back stronger. I like the way my game is headed. I love putting myself in these positions. I know I'll be better for it next time."
Bhatia’s trajectory, meanwhile, has been ascending from the moment he turned professional at the age of 17. College golf was never in his plans; he was an eighth-grader when he decided, with the support of his father, that he would turn pro once he was done with high school.
“It's obviously been a really tough road,” he said. “I've had a lot of up, a lot of down. A lot of good, a lot of bad. But I knew I was going to get here. It was just matter of time. For it to happen this year with special temporary membership and now to get to play all these events and to get it done today was, I can't even describe it.”