He wooed the world in his maiden PGA Tour appearance and India’s latest golfing sensation Shubhankar Sharma will expectedly be the cynosure of all eyes when he tees off on home turf, leading a galaxy of local stars at the 54th Indian Open starting in Gurgaon on Thursday. Sharma, 21, has emerged as the brightest star in the Indian golf scene after he secured two European Tour titles at the Joburg Open and Maybank Championship to lead the Race to Dubai rankings and also broke into the world’s top 100.
Last week, he conjured up hopes of becoming the first Indian to win the World Golf Championship-Mexico when he topped the leaderboard on the second and third day on his debut before finishing a creditable tied 9th, which also earned him an invitation for the Masters. Focus will be on Sharma as he joins the who’s who of Indian golf such as 2015 winner Anirban Lahiri, three-time Asian Tour winner in 2017 Shiv Kapur and two-time defending champion SSP Chawrasia, among others.
The field for tri-sanctioned event will also feature two Ryder Cup captains of Europe, Darren Clarke – the 2011 Open winner and winner of two other WGC events, and Thomas Bjorn – winner of 21 titles and a former Top-10 world ranked player.
Emiliano Grillo of Argentina, who is a PGA Tour winner and member of the 2017 Presidents Cup team, Britain’s Andrew Johnston, one of the most popular players around the world, past champions Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee and Siddikur Rahman from Bangladesh, Ryder Cup player, Chris Wood, who won the 2016 BMW PGA Championships, are also in the field.
The Gary Player course at the DLF Golf and Country Club also will pose a lot of questions but one man who seems to have mastered it is Chawrasia, who secured a seven-stroke win in the last edition.
With four European Tour titles on Indian soil, Chawrasia has been most consistent and he would look to be third time lucky this year.
Kapur, too, has been in sizzling form as he broke a 11-year title drought with a win at the Yeangder Heritage and then got a monkey off his back by securing the Panasonic Open after taming the Delhi Golf course and then grabbed the Royals Cup – all within eight months last year.
“I will play more attacking golf this year than last year because since it is a tough course, we tend to play more defensive,” Kapur said.
“I think if I come out with attack, I might make some bogeys but I will end up making few birdies as well. But if I am defensive and have a bunch of pars and a big number might hit you.”
The golf course tested the seasoned pros last year and it has been given more teeth this year with tees being pushed back on the 10th, 15th, 16th and 17th holes and it would be interesting to see the golfers deal with it this time.
Among other Indians, 2010 Wyndham Championship winner Arjun Atwal, Gaganjeet Bhullar, who won the Macao Open last year, and veterans Mukesh Kumar, Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa, will also be in action.
Another promising golfer to look out for would be Ajeetesh Sandhu, who clinched his first Asian Tour title at the Yeangder Tournament Players Championship before winning the Taiheiyo Club Challenge Tournament in Japan.