Tiger Woods of the US and India's Arjun Atwal wait on the 17th tee during a practice round for the US Open Golf Championship in Pebble Beach, California, in this June 14, 2010 file photo. [Photo/Agencies]
KAPALUA, Hawaii - Being a close friend of Tiger Woods has helped India's Arjun Atwal in more ways than he can count on the course.
The two golfers are neighbors in Windermere, Florida, where they regularly play practice rounds together, and Atwal has learned a great deal from the 14-time major winner about the mental approach to the game.
Woods also played an important behind-the-scenes role for Atwal before the Indian clinched his maiden victory on the PGA Tour at last year's Wyndham Championship.
"We practise so much together and Tiger tries to support me in any way he can," Atwal said during this week's Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Resort.
"In fact, he even told me to go out and play in the Monday qualifier for the Wyndham Championship. I had my European Tour card as well and it was my last year being fully exempt there.
"So I was in two minds whether to go and play there or at the Wyndham. And Tiger was like: 'Just go ahead and play in Monday qualifying and you will be fine'. And that's exactly what I did."
Atwal sank a pressure-packed seven-foot par putt on the final hole to beat American David Toms by one shot and become the first Monday qualifier to win on the PGA Tour since 1986.
He also became the first Indian and sixth Asian-born player to triumph on the US circuit, a breakthrough that booked his place in the field for this week's winners-only Tournament of Champions.
"That was huge for me, especially because two weeks before that I had just lost my (PGA Tour) card and my conditional status with the medical (exemption)," said Atwal.
The previous season, he had been sidelined for four months by a lingering shoulder injury.
"The thing was I had played pretty well all last year so I felt like I had the game to win," said Atwal, who became the first Indian to win on the European Tour at the 2002 Singapore Masters.
"It was just a matter of getting a few more starts and I had only nine starts before the Wyndham.
"So it was a lot of pressure but once that ended, when I got into the Wyndham, it didn't matter. I really had nothing to lose. I just went ahead and let it go."
Asked how much his Wyndham breakthrough had changed his goals on the PGA Tour, Atwal said: "It's given me more confidence. My goals have always been the same. It just took me a while to win here.
"I came pretty close to winning on the PGA Tour in '05 and '06. It just didn't go through. But it has definitely given me more confidence for when I am in the same position next time."
Something else which will not change will be his regular practice rounds with Woods in Florida where he will continue to seek advice from the former world No 1.
"Physically, I can't really compare myself to Tiger," said Atwal, who took up golf at the age of 14 in Calcutta. "He's in a different league.
"But on the mental side, he's shown me a lot of stuff that he does in preparation ... and how to compose yourself when you are under the gun, not being afraid of trying to pull shots off when you're out there under pressure."
When it comes to his remaining career goals in golf, Atwal does not have to think very long about his answer.
"Wins," he said with a smile. "It's all about wins for me because I'm 37 now and I want to try and win as much as I can because I am not getting any younger. That's what drives me."