Growing in popularity

COIMBATORE seems to have cemented its place as a southern venue for the Hero Honda Golf tour that traverses the length and breadth of the country.

D. RAVI SHANKAR

COIMBATORE seems to have cemented its place as a southern venue for the Hero Honda Golf tour that traverses the length and breadth of the country. Even though the course is a fair distance from the city and golfers as well as officials have to start in the wee hours of the morning to accommodate big fields, the entry list was huge, attracting 98 golfers, thus making an emphatic statement of the popularity of the tournament.

Feroz Ali, the champion. — Pic. K. ANANTHAN-

While there was quantity in the entries, the quality angle was short of the mark. For some reason some of the top gentlemen professionals seem to skip the Cotton City. Champion golfer of the year four times in a row — Mukesh Kumar loves the course. Other caddie professionals such as Feroz Ali, Shiv Prakash, Pappan, Yusuf Ali, Vijay Kumar, veteran Rohtas Singh, S. S. P. Chourasia along with brethren from Karnataka Golf Association, Madaiah and Muniyappa, were on the entry list but in the list of gentlemen professionals only a few like Uttam Singh Mundy, Digvijay Singh, Amrtinder Singh, Rahul Ganapathy, Sheeraz Kalra and Zai Kipgen signed up. Winner of the first event in the Hero Honda tour, Jyoti Randhawa was reportedly sharpening his shooting skills to participate in the rifle event in Chennai. Jyoti apparently is also a keen marksman and hoped to improve his position amongst the country's top skeet shooters. Harmeet Kahlon and Arjun Singh also by-passed the Cotton City Open for different reasons. The field thus was a trifle short on quality.

Golfers at Coimbatore have to play in difficult conditions. Swirling winds from the nearby Palakkad hill range can play havoc with the golfers' shots. It can also be a big advantage when as a tailwind it carries the drives some extra distance. The Coimbatore Golf Course, now staging the third edition of the Cotton City tournament, has been upgrading the course every time and this year's tournament had lovely greens, decent fairways and manageable roughs making it enjoyable for the golfers who teed off. The tournament started off with Coimbatore's almost `native son' Amritinder Singh grabbing the first day's honours with a card of three under 69. Amritinder whose father Simaran helped build the Coimbatore Golf Course began his golfing at the nine hole course in the city kick started his professional career thanks to a golf set presented by the CGC Managing Trustee K. Rajagopal. The former Mani Higher Secondary School student and now Chandigarh based had a great opening round with four birdies and only one bogey. His back nine scores had two birdies and was bogey free as he absolutely revelled in the conditions.

From day two onwards, Amritinder lost focus and dropped places to end up joint fifth finally. Feroz Ali meanwhile took centrestage. Trailing by one stroke on the opening day, Feroz Ali, despite a two over 74 for round two making him joint leader with Digvijay Singh, played brilliantly in the third round to push ahead by four strokes. Feroz's three under 69 was the third round's highlight as was defending champion Mukesh Kumar's four under 68. Mukesh seemed to be positioning himself for a challenge in the final round despite being a good 7 strokes behind the leader Feroz Ali.

Feroz was however starving for success. Winless for a long, long time, the Kolkotta professional was not about to blow his chances for the cash prize of over a lakh. The final round saw him eschew fanciful play and stick to steady driving and putting. That was enough for him to card a two over 74, which was still four strokes clear of the runner-up. The surprise of the final day was Karnataka Golf Association's caddie S. Madaiah who scaled up the ladder to share joint second position with Vijay Kumar. Madaiah's card of three under 69 was the only below par card for the final day making it a stand out performance for Madaiah.

In the amateur's section, Vignesh Ranga Rao was too good for his seven rivals. Of the four amateurs that made the cut, Vignesh with steady scores of the first three days, which included a par round on the third day had a 21 stroke lead over R. Gopinath, the runner-up in the amateur section.

The Coimbatore Golf Club continued its tradition of honouring the winner with a grey jacket apart from the cash prize.

The results: 1. Feroz Ali (70, 74, 69, 74) 287; 2. Vijay Kumar (73, 72, 72, 74) and S. Madaiah (73, 73, 76, 69) 291 each; 4. Pappan (72, 79, 69, 73) 293; 5. Uttam Singh Mundy (81, 71, 72, 72) and Amritinder Singh (69, 80, 75, 72) 296 each.

Amateurs: 1. Vignesh Ranga Rao (75, 77, 72, 85) 309; 2. R. Gopinath (78, 82, 87, 83) 330.