Daniel Chopra sat down at the scorer’s table during Monday’s 3M Open qualifier at Victory Links Golf Course.
Once a winner on the PGA Tour, the 45-year-old rubbed his eyes, knowing 67 didn’t have a chance in heck of moving on. Eventually, his eyes locked on one number.
Sixty-two. As in 9 under.
It belonged to one of his contemporaries, India’s 46-year-old Arjun Atwal, also a former PGA Tour winner and one of the most unlikely participants in this week’s 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities.
“Arjun played this course totally blind,” said Chopra, who, like many in Monday’s field, got in a practice round or two before teeing it up Monday.
“All he did was send his caddie out over the weekend to look it over,” Chopra added. “I guess it worked.”
What say you, Arjun?
“I guess it did because the first time I saw the course was when we teed off the 10th hole,” Atwal said. “But my caddie did a great job. Mark Mazo. I just relied on him. And made some putts.”
So, you two have been together for years, right? You’re so in sync, you finish each other’s sentences, eh?
“This is our first year together,” Mazo said.
Atwal then pointed out that Mazo has been doing this gig going back to the ’90s.
“And,” Atwal said, “He’s a Harvard graduate.”
So, Mark, as a smart money man, you obviously signed on with a guy who has been grinding out tournaments worldwide all year, right?
“I’ve only played four times this year,” said Atwal, who has made only $6,060 this year. “Twice on the Asian Tour and two on the PGA Tour, in Puerto Rico [finishing 70th] and the Dominican [missing the cut].”
Apparently, the man who carded an eagle and eight birdies Monday has been battling a balky back the past two months.
“It’s been very bad,” he said. “I’ve been back home [in Calcutta, India] trying to rehab it. It’s starting to feel a little better.”
With past-champions status, Atwal expects to get into next week’s John Deere Classic and the Barbasol Championship the following week. Then it’s back to Asia to play another seven or so tournaments.
Unless, of course, he kisses the 3M Open trophy come Sunday.
Only three Monday qualifiers since 1986 have won a PGA Tour event. Fred Wadsworth did it at the 1986 Southern Open. Corey Conners did it at this year’s Valero Texas Open.
And Atwal did it at the 2010 Wyndham Championship. He held at least a share of the lead the first three days and then fired a 3-under 67 to shoot 20 under, beat David Toms and collect $918,000, more than double what he had made up to that point that season.
“How does this week compare to that week?” Atwal asked. “I don’t know. I guess if I win, it will be similar.”
Atwal was the first India-born player to reach the PGA Tour and win on tour. Though he hasn’t won on tour since, he does have 10 international victories.
Atwal made sure to get an early look at TPC Twin Cities on Tuesday. With soft conditions, he and Mazo figure he’ll have to keep firing at pins and going for birdies as if “we have nothing to lose.”
And, suddenly, more eyes are turning to those pin-seeking Monday qualifiers this season. Besides Conners, 21-year-old Doc Redman went from a third-tier Mackenzie Tour player to Monday qualifier to finishing second at last week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.
“It’s a confidence boost,” Redman said Tuesday. “It’s another tournament-round atmosphere. You’re out there just kind of freewheeling it. And you go into the tournament with that mind-set. I know it helped me last week.”
As for this week, Atwal is optimistic but not exactly thumping his chest.
“We’ll see,” he said. “[Monday], I was hitting fairways and greens and making some putts. If the course plays long, that could be a problem for an old guy like me. Mark and I will go see what we can do.”
Mark Craig is a reporter for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @markcraigNFL