This may be the second back-to-back week when an international golf tournament will be played on Indian terrain,but the shift from the European Tour backed Avantha Masters to the Asian affair at the SAIL-SBI Open begining at Delhi Golf Club on Wednesday will be quite prominent.
The talking point of the event starting from Wednesday no more revolves around major winners on their first India trip or the countrys biggest prize purse. The next four days at the $300,000 tournament will be more about looking over the 21-strong Thai challenge,cheering on DGCs home heroes Indian Open runner-up Chiragh Kumar and Manav Jaini,and hoping that another Indian will be added to Asian Tours first-time winners from last year Anirban Lahiri and Himmat Rai.
But unlike Lahiri and Rai who failed to make news last week,defending champion Kiradech Aphibarnrat,another name from the first-time winners from last year,has been having a good season. After taking some weeks off at the end of last year because of a wrist injury,22-year-old Kiradech missed on the title in Myanmar by a whisker,in the playoff and also featured in the top-10 in Avantha. The Thai,though still on the heavy side,shows visible improvement in his fitness as well,and he says it has translated into more confidence on the course.
After playing a practice round on Tuesday,Kiradech looked content with his short game and determined about his defence. I remember each and every shot I played here last year for my title. Its my first chance at defending in a tournament and that gives me added motivation. The greens are a lot better than last year, he said joining the players unanimous verdict on the golf course being in its best shape. In all the times that I have played here,these are the best conditions the course has been in,after the winter season,it must have been tough to maintain such true greens, said Swede Rikard Karlberg who has won both the SAIL Open and The Indian Open on this course.
Though Chiragh Kumar also came close to winning the Indian Open last year,he has hit a rough patch since then and is hoping for a revival this week. Other DGC regulars,Shiv Kapur and Jaini also hope to end their title drought. After missing the cut last week,largely due to his short game,Gaganjeet Bhullar was spotted on the putting range and will be looking to make amends. Despite lying low with a thumb injury,one can never rule out Jyoti Randhawa from being far from contention on the DGC,where he has had several successes. Hopes will be high from Shamim Khan as well,who was the best-placed Indian at last weeks Avantha Masters.