Updated: November 3, 2017 9:00:43 am
Shiv Kapur’s reverse psychology seems to have worked, at least for the opening round. The Delhi golfer, returning after a bout of dengue, had said he wasn’t “100 per cent health-wise”, but that did not prevent him from compiling an impressive round of 7-under 65 to start his title bid for the Panasonic Open India on Thursday.
For a player who said the effects of the virus left him fatigued after just nine holes, it was especially creditable to close out his round with three successive birdies, which catapulted him to second spot, one shot behind leader Ajeetesh Sandhu.
“When you are playing well, you don’t feel tired. And when you see yourself two or three shots off the lead with two to play, adrenalin kicks in,” Kapur said after his afternoon round at his home course, the Delhi Golf Club.
Owing to his illness and the birth of his daughter, Kapur has not played much golf of late. He came into the tournament without too many expectations, and stuck to an attacking mode on a course which heavily penalises players who miss fairways or greens.
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Wary of his fitness over the later parts of the round, it was key for Kapur to start well. He did just that with birdies on his first two holes.
“It was a good start. I chipped in for birdie on the second then got a birdie on the fifth. The up and down on the eighth gave me a lot of momentum, taking me to four-under for the day.”
“I had a lull in the middle of my round, and did not make any birdies from the 9th to the 15th holes. But crucially, I did not drop any shots. When I got into trouble on the 14th, I managed a good par save. I plan to go with the same reverse psychology in the second round and play in the same aggressive fashion and use the driver wherever I can,” the 35-year-old said.
If Kapur came into the event downplaying his chances, Ajeetesh has arrived with the load of expectations. But the impressive 29-year-old is hardly feeling the burden. Coming after two successive victories – his first win on the Asian Tour followed by one on the Japan Challenge Tour – Ajeetesh is showing no signs of letting up. A round of 64 in the morning’s soft conditions proved untouchable for the rest of the field.
“There is no better feeling than winning. When you win once, it gives you such an energy boost that you want one more,” the winner of the recent Yeangder TPC in Chinese Taipei said. “It just provides validation that your game is good enough at this level.”
Ajeetesh’s round featured seven birdies and an eagle on the par-5 14, with the solitary bogey on the third hole.
He had all the more reason to play well after his parents arrived from Chandigarh. “It is the first time I was meeting them since my wins in Taiwan and Japan. So, there was a lot to talk about.” There was a huge embrace from his father, SPS Sandhu, a big influence on his career.
The last six editions of the tournament have seen five Indian winners, and going by the early trend, it could be a similar story this week as well. Among the 13 players who occupied the top 10 places on the leaderboard, all but four were home-grown. Gaganjeet Bhullar, another Indian golfer in a rich vein of form, is not too far out of the picture either.
“I didn’t have the sort of opening round I was looking for, missing a lot of putts,” the Kapurthala golfer said after his round of 70. “It should have been a 5-under round, instead of just 2-under. The fairways are soft and greens slow.”
One player who did not make the most of the conditions was defending champion Mukesh Kumar. The 52-year-old, who victory last year made him the oldest winner ever on the Asian Tour , was keen to follow his maiden triumph on the continental tour with another one. But the winner of more than 100 titles on the domestic tour needs to follow his round of even-par 72 with something substantial on Friday to stay relevant.
The likes of SSP Chawrasia and Thai legend Thaworn Witatchant are lurking three shots behind and can never be counted out.
Leaderboard (Indian unless specified): Ajeetesh Sandhu -8; Shiv Kapur -7; Shamim Khan, Aman Raj -6; Thaworn Wiratchant (Thailand), SSP Chawrasia -5
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