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India's Atwal trying to play well for pal Tiger

© Getty/AFP/File / by Jim SLATER | Tiger Woods (R) of the United States walks with Arjun Atwal (L) of India during a practice round prior to the start of THE PLAYERS Championship held at THE PLAYERS Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass on May 9, 2012

POTOMAC (UNITED STATES) (AFP) - 

Arjun Atwal isn't even ranked among the world's top 1,000 golfers, but the 44-year-old from India is carrying the hopes of a legend this week -- Tiger Woods.

Atwal, a long-time Florida neighbor and practice partner of Woods, fired a three-under-par 67 Friday to stand among the second-round leaders at the US PGA National on five-under 135 at TPC Potomac.

"I don't even know, seriously," Atwal said when asked how he did it. "I haven't really played much golf this year.

"I haven't really been playing that much. This is only my fifth tournament of the year... So I'm a little tired, but we'll see."

One player sure to be watching is Woods, the 14-time major winner whose charity foundation stages this week's event in suburban Washington.

Woods, 41, is absent this week while continuing treatment to manage medications for back pain and a sleep disorder. He turned to "professional help" after a May arrest for impaired driving.

Former world number one Woods provided a third consecutive sponsor's exemption this week for 1,008th-ranked Atwal, who was 72nd in 2015 and 64th last year on different courses but is excited to be near the top now.

"It's awesome," Atwal said. "I've been talking to him almost every day and obviously he's one of my better best friends.

"He wants me to play well. He has given me an invite almost the last three years every year, so I'm hoping I won't let him down."

Atwal, who has battled nagging injuries as Woods did, was the first India-born player to win a US PGA Tour event, taking the 2010 Greensboro title. But his last win, or top-10 finish, came at the Asian Tour's 2014 Dubai Open.

"I've only played four tournaments leading up to this and they've all been about a month apart," Atwal said. "I'm just going to basically do the same thing. I'm going to try and birdie the easy holes, if there are any, and then hang in there."

In his prior 2017 starts, Atwal missed the cut three weeks ago at the US PGA St. Jude Classic in Memphis, shared 15th in April's Panasonic Open in Japan, was level 55th at the India Open in March and missed the cut in Malaysia last February.

Atwal opened on the back nine and birdied three holes in a row starting at the par-3 12th, dropping an impressive 35-foot birdie putt at the par-4 13th.

He stumbled with back-to-back bogeys at the turn on 18 and the first, a missed fairway his undoing on the former and greenside bunker dooming him on the latter.

But Atwal birdied the par-5 second on an 18-foot putt and the par-3 third from 10 feet in reply, then parred his way home.

by Jim SLATER

© 2017 AFP