Sore shoulder and all, grown-up Akshay Bhatia back at Augusta National

Sore shoulder and all, grown-up Akshay Bhatia back at Augusta National
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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Even though Akshay Bhatia is playing his first Masters, he has history at Augusta National.

Bhatia earned the final spot into the year’s first major on Sunday when he birdied the 72nd hole to force a playoff and then beat Denny McCarthy on the first extra hole at the Valero Texas Open. He became the first player to win a PGA Tour event who also competed in the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at Augusta National, where he finished sixth in 2014 as a 12-year-old.

“Driving up Magnolia Lane with all the kids, met a lot of new friends. I remember we were in the hotel and we got one of the Masters cups from the tournament [and] we all grabbed our putters and just were putting on the carpet in the hotel and just having a bunch of fun,” Bhatia said on Monday. “Then I remember coming out watching the practice rounds on Tuesday or Wednesday. We were sitting on Hole 4 on the grandstands and it was just so surreal.”

Bhatia has been back to Augusta National since then, to play a recreational round with a member in 2019. But he admitted that being a member of the Masters field has a different feel.

Because he was an 11th-hour addition to the field via his victory in San Antonio, Bhatia had a late start on Monday after arriving in Augusta at about 1:30 a.m. EDT. That preparation will be even more challenging for the two-time Tour winner after he popped out his left shoulder on Sunday while celebrating his playoff-inducing putt.

“It’s going to be a work in progress, for sure. I’ve had it happen two, three times. I had a full disc location playing pickleball a couple years ago,” he said. “It’s nothing new to me. It’s a weird, weird experience because I had so much adrenaline so I had no pain, kind of, in that playoff. But it’s definitely something we’re going to have to work towards, and I have a lot of trust in my team that we can tee it up on Thursday.”

The injury may be a blessing in disguise for Bhatia, who is playing his fifth consecutive tournament this week. The plan was to get therapy — and rest — on Monday and test his shoulder during a practice round on Tuesday.

“I’m hoping my shoulder should be good but I might be a little scared to hit some shots,” he said. “We just got to find out tomorrow.”

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