Anirban Lahiri looked part of the elite after an opening round three-under 69 left him tied 10th in the elite 18-man field of the $3.5 million Hero World Challenge here on Thursday.
With three players – Jimmy Walker, Zach Johnson and Paul Casey – bringing in cards of six-under 66 to share the lead and five others, including World no. 1 and defending champion Jordan Spieth, a shot behind, it was apparent that the conditions were less challenging.
In fact, it was Spieth who triggered off the excitement by shooting a rare hole-in-one on the 172-yard second hole. Only a third ‘ace’ of Spieth’s career came when his 6-iron sent the ball soaring to within a foot of the ‘cup’ and it gently rolled in.
With the wind not getting into play and the soft, small greens holding up nicely, the players could attack the flags almost at will. Moreover, given the quality of field, it was not surprising to find 17 out of 18 players bringing in sub-par cards. Even Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, the only exception, was under-par till the end of the 17th hole before a horrendous quadruple-bogey 8 spoilt his card.
Lahiri, playing alongside Spieth, produced a steady round with two birdies on either side of the turn, and a lone bogey on the ninth. Encouragingly, 39th-ranked Indian finished the day ahead of Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler, ranked fifth and sixth in the world.
On a sandy course, that has five par-5s and an equal number of par-3s, Lahiri came in with a 35 and was one better on the back nine. Among his four birdies, the one on the 13th was the longest from about 16 feet.
“I missed makeable ‘eagle’ putts on sixth and 15th, from 15 and 25 feet, and that doesn’t feel great. I had a couple of unlucky bounces including on the ninth, but overall I am happy with my play,” said Lahiri.
Talking about playing with Spieth, Lahiri said, “We have been good friends. I’ve played with him before at the WGC-HSBC in 2014, at a time when I was trying to get into Top-50.”
Looking back on the day, he said “I hit the ball well, the rhythm was there, but I left a few putts out there. And with great conditions, I am actually surprised no one went real deep.”
Jimmy Walker (US), Zach Johnson (US), Paul Casey (Eng) 66; Adam Scott (Aus), Bubba Watson (US), Bill Hass (US), Jordan Spieth (US), Brooks Keopka (US) 67; Dustin Johnson (US) 68; Patrick Reed (US), Chris Kirk (US), Anirban Lahiri (Ind) 69; Rickie Fowler (US), Matt Kuchar (US) 70; Justin Rose (Eng), J. B. Holmes (US), Billy Horschel (US) 71 and Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 75.