Indian Open: Chawrasia does it again and how...

Overall, it turned out to be Chawrasia’s week, and that too, by a long shot — seven strokes to be precise. The triumph appears even bigger if one considers his dismal run on the Tour in recent times.

S. S. P. Chawrasia of India with the trophy after winning the Hero Indian Open golf tournament at the DLF Golf and Country Club in Gurugram.   -  Getty Images

They came from all parts of the world for yet another edition of the Hero Indian Open. Aware that the event would be played at a new course, away from the Delhi Golf Club, the traditional ‘home’ of the country’s oldest golf event, the curiosity of the European Tour and the Asian Tour regulars was understandable.

The first look at the redesigned DLF Golf and Country Club in Gurugram, near the National Capital, left most of them in awe. Unlike the Arnold Palmer signature course that held several international events in the past, the one redesigned by Gary Player, who added nine new holes and made several changes to the nine existing ones, posed a new challenge.

Much like the parkland courses seen in Europe, the course greeted the players with stunning to intimidating sights. From the first to the final hole, the degree of challenges varied. The undulating nature of the course — with water hazards and strategically-placed bunkers, not to forget the bunker-walls —unfolds itself as one approaches the first tee. The opening hole plays upwards leading to an elevated green. In contrast, the left-dogleg shaped fourth hole requires a precise approach-shot from the fairway leading to the green at the end of the slope.

The 18th hole at the DLF Golf and Country Club in Gurugram is among the more testing ones on the course, with the water hazard, not to forget the undulating fairway, presenting a challenge of a different kind.   -  K. JAIRAJ

 

After negotiating the undulating fairways and greens, the golfer is left to cross the final two hurdles, the 17th and the 18th, that truly test his/her skills to the hilt. After all, it is not often that a golfer is made to choose the right club to deal with altitudinal changes.

The 17th green was originally perched on a man-made cliff, requiring a golfer to play upwards and reach the green without getting a good look at it. Later, it was found to be too difficult for an average golfer and was redesigned.

The approved version, by keeping the well-designed rock formation intact, also needs a golfer to reach the elevated green with some precision.

The sloppy finishing hole, a par-five, has a wide water body that provokes a golfer to hit long and high to reach the green. Here, the right club holds the key since the hard and bouncy nature of the green can lead the ball into the waiting bunkers, guarded by designer walls.

It was this unfamiliar course, even to the Indians, that formed the battlefield for the richest purse on home soil in any sport.

Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello, ranked 25th in the world, was the marquee player in an event that had the who’s who of Indian golf. From defending champion S. S. P. Chawrasia (ranked a distant 258th) and Anirban Lahiri to veterans like Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal, former champion Jyoti Randhawa and Shiv Kapur.

Younger aspirants like Chiragh Kumar, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Shubhankar Sharma, Rashid Khan were all there to test their skills on an untested course holding its first major international event, not to count the ladies Indian Open.

As the action unfolded, the vagaries of the weather added to the challenge. Threat of lightning interrupted the action for 90 minutes on Day One and another 150 minutes on Day Two. Owing to the backlog of 66 players needing to finish their rounds on the following day, even the leaders’ group of Round Three, played seven holes before starting their final round on March 12. If this was not enough challenge, the heavy overnight rain demanded last-minute fine-tuning of approach to play each hole.

Gavin Green of Malaysia plays a shot during the final round the Hero Indian Open. He finished second.   -  Getty Images

Overall, it turned out to be Chawrasia’s week, and that too, by a long shot — seven strokes to be precise. The triumph appears even bigger if one considers his dismal run on the Tour in recent times. This year, he finished tied 70th in Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, then missed the ‘cut’ in Qatar Masters, Dubai Desert Classic and Maybank Championship. He was tied-35th in the ISPS HANDA World Super 6 in Perth before coming home to defend his title.

No doubt, Chawrasia was seen as one of the probable front-runners based on the triumph last year to go with four runner-up finishes in the event. But considering his form, limited skills and his obvious unfamiliarity with the course of this nature, he was far from the favourite.

Many thought it was a course suited more to the Europeans and therefore, the Asians needed to pull out new tricks to be in the mix. But the week held more surprises than one anticipated before the first ball was struck on March 16.

Chawrasia remained the only golfer without a single over-par round for four days! In fact, only the Indian champion and joint-eighth Michael Hoy carded three sub-par rounds. Overall, only seven players managed sub-par aggregates (287 or less) for four rounds.

Against this backdrop, Chawrasia’s winning score of 10-under 278 appears awe-inspiring. It was also a reward for this simple man’s steely resolve to stay disciplined on the course, stick to the fundamentals instead of getting too aggressive and inviting punishment from the unforgiving course.

On the opening day, Chawrasia returned a par card while David Horsey, who eventually finished tied eighth, shot a 66. On the second day, Horsey slipped with a 74 and Chawrasia responded with a flawless 67. By the end of the third round, Chawrasia, Spain’s Carlos Pigem and Malaysia’s Gavin Green held the top three places with the Indian holding a two-stroke lead at nine-under.

By the time the final putt was sunk, Chawrasia kept the title at 10-under, Green was second at three-under and Pigem, who double-bogeyed the final hole, slipped to tied fifth, same as Lahiri.

The third place was shared by Scotland’s Jamiesson and Italy’s Matteo Manassero, at two-under.

When Chawrasia could afford to bogey the final hole and still win by seven strokes — a winning margin previously seen only in 1965 and 1969 — a packed gallery had got what it had come for.

Coming as it did on the eve of the festival of colour and water, Holi, some close supporters of Chawrasia invaded the 18th green and left the champion drenched in water. His wife, Simantini, was also not far behind in catching him on the green with a congratulatory hug and kiss.

It was hardly surprising that Chawrasia rated the latest of his six international titles as his best triumph. What more, the 38-year-old also made European Tour history by becoming the first to win four successive titles at home. That also made him the first Indian to defend a European Tour title at home.

“This is probably the best win of my career as it was a really tough course. This week, I made less mistakes and others made more mistakes,” was how Chawrasia chose to put it.

“Honestly, I was not comfortable on this course, I was nervous on every single shot. When I finished the third round, I knew I had a two-shot lead into the final round. I told myself, I didn’t need birdies, just aim for pars in the final round.” For the record, over 72 holes, Chawrasia dealt with the challenges far better than most contenders and fired 16 birdies against six bogeys, including twice on the 18th.

Now Chawrasia finds himself on the threshold of the Top-170 of the world. A purse of $291,660 (approximately Rs. 1.94 crore) has surely made up for all the disappointments of the recent past. More importantly, winning ahead of so many better players on a course expected to suit the European Tour regulars better, should take his confidence to a new high.