Saturday in golf is called Moving Day. On Saturday, at the Panasonic Open India, almost all players in contention at the halfway stage made a move. But no one moved into a clear position of dominance. When the dust settled after an action-packed third round at the Delhi Golf Club, local favourite Shiv Kapur was sharing the lead with American left-hander Paul Peterson at 13-under 203. One shot back was local professional Shamim Khan, while a trio of Indians – SSP Chawrasia, Om Prakash Chouhan and Sudhir Sharma – were at 11-under. In all, seven players were within three shots of the lead.
The round had a fitting climax on the the 18th green when Kapur made a 25-foot putt for eagle and doffed his cap to the crowd, just moments after Peterson has chipped in from the edge for an eagle of his own. Shamim, who was leading by one coming into the closing hole, fell one behind after managing just a par.
The likes of Chouhan and Sharma are not among the top players even on the domestic Professional Golf Tour of India, but the duo was sharing the lead at one stage. Kapur has never won an Asian Tour event on his home course, and despite struggling with his long game at times on Saturday, he hung in there. The 35-year-old started with a bogey when he hit his tee shot into the bush and had a double bogey on 11 before the exclamation point on the 18th hole. “I didn’t have my A game today, more like B. I hit a pull off every hole, but showed a lot of determination and grit. I am happy with the character I displayed, as it is not easy when you are fighting something technical in your swing. But my chipping and putting has been very good,” he said after the round.
He admitted he felt the pressure playing on home course. “There will be pressure playing on my home course, and I will probably have a peek at the leaderboard only with five or six holes to go in the final round to decide my approach from there.”
The Delhi Golf Club usually puts a premium on familiarity, that’s why home players often dominate here. Peterson is the odd man out, and he knows there will not be a lot of spectators cheering for him on Sunday. He started and ended his third round with eagles, but had three more bogeys on the front nine and a bidie on the par-5 14th.
“At certain points in the round, I would hit a good shot and there would barely be a clap while my Indian playing partner would hit it some way away from the pin, and there would be loud applause. The galleries are pulling for the Indian players, which is compeletly understandable,” the Scottsdale native who has a European Tour victory to his name told The Indian Express.
The trio of Khan, Chouhan and Sharma have plied their trade almost exclusively on the domestic tour, and it would be a challenge for them to remain unfazed in the heat of the battle against seasoned players. In fact, Chouhan and Sharma stumbled on the final two holes when they were at the top of the leaderboard. Shamim had four birdies and a solitary bogey, but his inability to take advantage of the closing par-5 meant he finished a shot behind the leaders. “There is nothing in it. I’ve grown up playing at the DGC, but I still can’t take this course for granted. Going by my years of experience here, I will look to play steady in the final round and not try to be too aggressive,” Shamim said.
Sharma was an aspiring cricketer in his younger days but took to golf seeing his father, an armyman, play the game in their hometown of Meerut. “I have not played well for the last two years, and will definitely be nervous during the final round,” Sharma, ranked 55th on the PGTI Order of Merit, said. In a way, it is good for players like Sharma and Chouhan, who had two chip-ins on the 7th and 11th in the third round, that they don’t have the pressure of leading the tournament, and can play without most of the limelight. Chawrasia also knows the course like the back of his hand, and with just two shots separating him from the leaders, the Kolkata pro will be a big factor in the final round.
“I’m not too far off the lead. The way I see it, if you can shoot six-under or better, you’ll stand a good chance of winning,” he said after a round of -3 under 69. However, first-round leader Ajeetesh Sandhu failed to stop his downward momentum with a level-par round, which put him down to tied 13th spot. As for Peterson, he knows who will feel the pressure more on Sunday. “There is pressure on everybody, but these guys are playing at home. I, on the other hand, can play free golf and run with the momentum if I get some of the putts to drop,” he said.
Scores: Shiv Kapur 65-69-69 (-13), Paul Peterson 69-64-70 (-13), Shamim Khan 66-69-69 (-12); Om Prakash Chouhan 70-69-66 (-11), Sudhir Sharma 69-70-66 (-11), SSP Chawrasia 67-69-69 (-11)