Panasonic Open: Indians could find it tough to repeat domination

Seven home-grown winners in eight editions of the $400,000 Panasonic Open underline the Indian domination of this annual event.

A RARE SIGHT: Arjun Atwal (from left), Jeev Milkha Singh and Jyoti Randhawa will be part of the field in the $400,000 Panasonic Open golf championship beginning at Gurugram on Thursday.   -  Special Arrangement

Seven home-grown winners in eight editions of the $400,000 Panasonic Open underline the Indian domination of this annual event.

But for the first time, the event has moved away from the Delhi Golf Club and comes alive at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Classic Golf and Country Club on Thursday. For this reason, the chances of an Indian winning on Sunday stand lessened since most Indian professionals do not get to play on this 7,114-yard course.

With the ‘home’ advantage effectively out of the equation, the battle involving 68 Indians challenge and 58 overseas contenders is expected to be fought on an even keel.

Unlike the tree-lined fairways of the Delhi Golf Club, the course here encourages the long hitters. This course is far more forgiving and a professional can get away with even a wayward tee-shot. The driver and woods come into play more often and the big, finely-manicured greens encourage attacking approach shots.

Experience can come handy and there are at least three well-known names in the field -- Jeev Milkha Singh (13 international wins), Arjun Atwal (10) and Jyoti Randhawa (9) -- have it in plenty. But their form is far from encouraging. In fact, Jyoti will be making his 300 appearance as a professional.

Defending champion Khalin Joshi, Shiv Kapur (champion in 2017), Chiragh Kumar (2015), besides seasoned campaigners, Digvijay Singh (2012) and Mukesh Kumar (2016) are around. Again, it remains to be seen how they deal with the challenges posed by this course.

In fact, in the last edition, on the last five holes, Joshi sank four birdies, including the last two, to beat Bangladesh’s Siddikur Rahman by a shot! Siddikur, a three-time runner-up, is back to do one better.

The presence of Gaganjeet Bhullar, Ajitesh Sandhu and Rashid Khan strengthens the prospects of Sunday producing another Indian winner.

Also in the mix is Udayan Mane, the winner of the PGTI Players’ Championship, the only domestic tour event held this season. If the Classic International championship held here in September is anything to go by, Indians could find it tougher than expected. After all, only four Indians could break into the top-15 list. Rashid Khan, third at 19-under, was two shots behind the winner Rory Hie.

Going purely by form, Thailand’s Suradit Yongcharoenchai looks good to do well. Winner of the Mercuries Taiwan Masters this season, Yongcharoenchai is currently the highest ranked player in the field, at ninth on the Order of Merit.

Another Thai Pavit Tangkamolprasert, joint second with Shiv Kapur at the Thailand Open last Sunday, he will be looking to add to the Venetian Macao Open title-triumph.

Also, watch out for Argentina’s Miquel Carballo, winner of the Indonesia Open in September. When he played the Classic International that month here, he did not shoot a single over-par round.

Overall, a close title-race is expected and an unexpected winner cannot be ruled out.