Anirban Lahiri grouped with Arjun Atwal at Corales Puntacana Championship

Indian golfer Anirban Lahiri will look to continue his momentum when he makes his debut at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship on Thursday.

Anirban Lahiri will be in familiar company when he tees up in the PGA TOUR tournament as countryman Arjun Atwal will be in the same group for the opening two rounds.   -  GETTY IMAGES

His confidence on a high after a tied 36th finish in the season-opening Safeway Open, Indian golfer Anirban Lahiri will look to continue his momentum when he makes his debut at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship starting here on Thursday.

The 33-year-old, who has been battling indifferent form in the last two years, enjoyed his best result on the PGA Tour in nearly 18 months when he signed off tied 36th at Safeway Open two weeks ago. His last best finish was a T30 at the Valspar Championship in March last year.

“The game feels really good at the moment. Safeway was a good confidence booster as after the bad start, I was able to finish strong which felt great,” said Lahiri.

READ: Lahiri’s best result in almost 18 months, Sharma finishes 44th

Lahiri will be in familiar company when he tees up in the PGA TOUR tournament as countryman Arjun Atwal will be in the same group for the opening two rounds.

Atwal, who played four events when golf returned after the hiatus due to Covid-19, makes his first start of the new season. They are group together alongside David Hearn.

There is more Indian connection as the field also includes two-time PGA Tour winner, the Indo-Swede Daniel Chopra, a great friend of both Lahiri and Atwal. Also in the field is 18-year-old Akshay Bhatia, who is of Indian origin, but was born and brought up in the US, and is now mentored by Phil Mickelson.

Lahiri and Atwal go off together at 11.30 am on first day, while Daniel Chopra plays with Johnson Wagner and Seamus Power in one of the earliest groups at 6.50 am, and Akshay Bhatia plays with Ted Purdy, who an Asian Tour event in India in 1997, and Joseph Bramlett at 8 am.

Lahiri is coming into the tournament after a good outing at the Safeway Open where he opened with a lacklustre 74 but subsequently added rounds of 65, 67 and 70 to ensure a solid start to his sixth season on the PGA TOUR.

The second round 65 was his lowest score since shooting the same number during the second round of the John Deere Classic in July last year.

Lahiri, a former two-time Presidents Cup International team member, spent his downtime at home during golf’s shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic by dismantling his golf swing and rebuilding it from scratch with coach Vijay Divecha.

“I spent a lot of time during lockdown in India, where I went for Hero Indian Open (his last win came at the same event in 2015) but with it being cancelled and the lockdown happening I stayed on in India with the family,” said Lahiri, a former two-time Presidents Cup International Team member.

“I returned for just one event, Wyndham, in the previous season and then the Safeway. So, I rested and also worked during my downtime at home with my coach Vijay Divecha. We worked on various aspects, broke down everything and did a lot of work on swing and re-built it in a way.”

Lahiri, who is making his first trip to the Corales Golf Club, which has six holes that run along the Caribbean Ocean, said, “The golf course here reminds me of my days on the Asian Tour. Similar grasses and temperatures and conditions to what I played for years back home. Definitely a feeling of familiarity even though it’s my first time here.”

Atwal, India’s first winner on the PGA TOUR with his success at the 2010 Wyndham Championship, will also look to start the new season on a strong note.

The 47-year-old featured in 12 tournaments on the TOUR last season, making the cut in five events including three of his last four starts.

“It felt good during that stretch and playing four times in seven weeks also gave me an idea of my strength, because during practise rounds, we mostly use carts. I am proud that I held up at 47,” said Atwal with a characteristic laugh.

“It will be great to play with Anirban. It is like playing at home and in a great atmosphere and the venue itself is superb. I am looking forward to this.”

The field has some familiar Asian Tour names like Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Kurt Kitayama.

The highest ranked player in the field Henrik Stenson at No. 43 and it also includes the defending champion Graeme McDowell, who while winning the 2019 edition ended a five-year-long PGA Tour title drought, though he won in February this year. He has however missed seven cuts in his last nine starts since the Tour re-started in June.

One of the most keenly watched players will be Will Zalatoris, who in his first start on PGA Tour since Wyndham 2018, finished T-9 at the US Open at Winged Foot. This Korn Ferry graduate is the one to watch for in the near future.