Opportunities open at Panasonic Open

The prize-money of offer has been raised by $100,000 to make it $400,000 but the poor scheduling of the event has taken the sheen away from this Asian Tour event starting on Thursday.

Mohammad Siddikur (L) will be top among the favourites in the Panasonic Open in the absence of S. S. P. Chowrasia (centre) and Anirban Lahiri (R).   -  Sandeep Saxena

Ironical as it sound, the richest-ever Panasonic Open golf championship in five years has attracted the weakest field at the Delhi Golf Club here. The prize-money of offer has been raised by $100,000 to make it $400,000 but the poor scheduling of the event has taken the sheen away from this Asian Tour event starting on Thursday. With all the title-winners of the year busy in Shanghai for the $8.5 million WGC-HSBC Champions, the absence of even some of the marquee names from the Asian Tour is not surprising.

In such a scenario, even Bangladesh's Siddikur Rahman, once a winner and a three-time runner at the DGC qualifies to be seen among the favourites. Siddikur has the game to deal with the challenges of the course, which is not a delight for the long-hitters. Armed with plenty of confidence in tackling the course here, Siddikur said, “I finished second so many times here and that could have been victories. I wish I won more in Delhi because this golf course suits my game.”

With defending champion S. S. P. Chowrasia away to Shanghai, and so is former champion and India's numero uno Anirban Lahiri, the home challenge rests with the lesser mortals. Digvijay Singh, the only former champion in the field, is battling poor form having missed the 'cut' five times this year. He hopes to draw from the confidence from winning the 2012 edition but it won't be easy.

“I remember the win almost like it happened yesterday,” he smiled. I’ve had a bad patch in the last seven months. I’ve struggled on the Asian Tour. Hopefully it will be better starting from this week,” he said sounding more optimistic than realistic.

“I’ve only realised in these last few years that this game is about the few inches between your ears. Sometimes you doubt yourself and that’s the time when you need to pick up the pieces and keep moving on. Doubts will only make it worst,” he said.

Rahil Gangjee, who lost in the play-off last year, will be looking to end the title-drought following his maiden Asian Tour victory in 2002. Rashid Khan and Chiragh Kumar are the other home-bred golfers expected to be among the challengers.

The event has 56 Indians in a field of 126 from 24 countries across five continents. There are 15 previous winners on the Asian Tour with 53 titles among themselves. However, by the looks of it, this is a great opportunity for a little-known name to be a first-time winner on the Tour. So, come Sunday, there could well be a new champion raising the glittering trophy.