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Akshay Bhatia pops his shoulder back in before clinching dramatic sudden-death victory at Valero Texas Open

As the saying goes, nothing truly succeeds without pain – as Akshay Bhatia discovered on Sunday.

Bhatia was six shots clear when he made the turn at the Valero Texas Open on Sunday. Nine holes later, he headed into a sudden-death playoff nursing a shoulder that had just popped out of its socket.

The 22-year-old American had led from the first round and looked to be cruising wire-to-wire to his second PGA Tour title in San Antonio before compatriot Denny McCarthy staged a truly remarkable late surge.

One-under through his first nine holes, 31-year-old McCarthy powered home with seven consecutive birdies to card a joint tournament best nine-under 63 and leave Bhatia needing a closing birdie of his own just to make a playoff at 20-under overall – nine shots clear of Rory McIlroy in third.

A nerveless putt from almost 12 feet saw an impassioned Bhatia force McCarthy back to the 18th tee, but his celebration came at a cost. Pumping his left fist as the ball dropped in, the California-native dislocated his shoulder.

“When I made that putt and I kind of raised my arm, it kind of came out of [the] socket and went back in,” Bhatia told reporters.

Bhatia celebrates the birdie putt that forced McCarthy into a playoff, dislocating his shoulder in the process. - Raj Mehta/Getty Images
Bhatia celebrates the birdie putt that forced McCarthy into a playoff, dislocating his shoulder in the process. - Raj Mehta/Getty Images

After a return to the par-five 18th hole for the first playoff hole, Bhatia struck two shots before receiving treatment from physio Aki Tajima, who taped up the shoulder at the edge of the fairway.

His subsequent sand wedge to within six feet of the flag was enough to clinch victory, McCarthy’s fightback suffering a watery end when his third shot plopped into the creek guarding the green.

Bhatia rolled in for birdie once more to clinch his first PGA Tour title since the Barracuda Championship last year and $1.6 million in prize money.

The triumph also rocketed him 53 places to a career-best world No. 34 ranking, but the sweetest winning perk of all was the last-minute ticket stamped to The Masters on Thursday.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Bhatia, who made his first and only career major appearance at the US Open last year.

“I played Augusta in 2020 maybe, I had a member take me out. I remember how amazing that place is. But to realize that I’m playing in the Masters next week, it’s absolutely crazy.

“It was on my mind all week, but I tried to stick to my game plan.”

Bhatia heaped praise on world No. 30 McCarthy, who fell narrowly short of a dramatic first PGA Tour crown.

“Denny just played unbelievable,” he added. “It was like this guy was just not human.

“When you see that, you’re like, ‘Crap, like I’m not doing anything that bad and yet my lead is going from five to four to three to two to one’ … his win’s coming soon.”

McCarthy's charge ended when his third shot on the first playoff hole splashed into the water. - Raj Mehta/Getty Images
McCarthy's charge ended when his third shot on the first playoff hole splashed into the water. - Raj Mehta/Getty Images

McCarthy will join Bhatia in making his debut at Augusta National, buoyed by his final flourish in Texas.

“I feel like I’m playing well enough to win the tournament,” McCarthy told reporters Sunday.

“Obviously you get in the heat of battle there, might be a different kind of pressure, pressure that I’ve maybe never experienced, but I’d like to put myself there to see what it’s like. I think this week was a good test for that.”

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