There is no dollar-event in the country so audaciously dominated by the home-grown golfers like the $400,000 Panasonic Open. In seven editions, Indians have won the title six times.
When the eighth edition opens on Thursday at the Delhi Golf Club course, chances of another Indian-triumph cannot be ruled out. Sixty-nine Indians are part of a not-so-formidable field of 126.
Among the former Indian champions, Digvijay Singh (2012), Chiragh Kumar (2015), Mukesh Kumar (2016) and defending champion Shiv Kapur are back. The absentees are Anirban Lahiri (2011) and S. S. P. Chawrasia (2014).
With the top 13 players from the Asian Tour Order of Merit away, only three from the top-20 and 10 more from the top-40, will be seen in action here this week.
Like last year, Indians can grab the major share of the prize money. When Kapur won, six of the seven players tied for the runner-up spot were Indians.
Given the nature of the course - tight tree-lined fairways and small greens - the accuracy off the tee is rewarded. Conversely, a wayward tee-shot brings with it harsh punishments. In the absence of any water-hazard or intimidating greenside-bunkers, percentage golf holds the key on this course.
In this background, the knowledge gained from playing on this course makes it a shade easier for the Indians. The regulars on the domestic PGTI Tour, apart from an experienced contender like the 2016 runner-up Jyoti Randhawa, have good prospects of a strong finish. Asian Tour regulars Khalin Joshi and Ajeetesh Sandhu also have reasons to be optimistic. In the midst is Jeev Milkha Singh, back in search of his maiden triumph in a dollar-event in the country.
Among the young turks, Kolkata-based ‘rookie’ Viraj Madappa, winner of the $350,000 Take Solutions Masters title in Bengaluru in August, could well be the proverbial ‘dark horse.’ This event will also witness three young talents - Kshitij Naveed Kaul , Aadil Bedi and Yuvraj Sandhu turn professionals.
Out of overseas participants from 17 countries, strongest challenge is likely to come from the Thai trio of Jazz Janewattananond, Prom Meesawat and Danthai Boonma - all in the top-20 list of money earners on the Tour this season. Twice runner-up Bangladesh’s Siddikur Rahman is keen to do one better.
Though a close title-race is expected, looking at the history of this premier event, a first-time winner cannot be ruled out.
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