Randhawa makes history

Jyoti Randhawa... the first Indian to become a three-time winner.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Unlike Jyoti Randhawa’s previous triumphs that came after playoffs, the latest one was authoritatively achieved. Rakesh Rao reports.

Jyoti Randhawa...

For the sixth time in 10 years, the best week of golf in the country also became the most celebrated one.

The $500,000 Hero Honda Indian Open, the richest since the inception of the National Open in 1964, produced a historic high with defending champion Jyoti Randhawa becoming only the second player and the first Indian to become a three-time winner. He matched the feat of Australia’s Peter Thomson, the champion in 1964, 1966 and 1976. Randhawa also surpassed Ali Sher, the winner in 1991 and 1993.

In beating the field by three shots at the Delhi Golf Club course, Randhawa also ensured that the title remained in the country for the sixth time in a decade.

Randhawa, champion in 2002 and 2006, beat back the challenge of several Asian Tour pros just like previous winners Firoz Ali (1998), Arjun Atwal (1999) and Vijay Kumar (2002) had done.

The country’s flagship golf event, that saw a rise of $100,000 from last year, matched the previous high of half a million dollars in prize money offered by Gadgil Masters in 1995. Then too, there was an Indian winner when Gaurav Ghei chipped in from 60 feet to leave Vijay Kumar stranded at the threshold of victory.

Unlike Randhawa’s previous triumphs that came after playoffs, the latest one was authoritatively achieved. After rounds of 70 and 69 on the first two days, Randhawa made his charge on the third day with a 67 to catch up with Thailand’s Chapchai Nirat at the top at 10-under.

On the final day, Randhawa kept his nerve while Nirat faltered. Chinese Taipei’s Chang Tse-Peng came within a shot of Randhawa after a birdie on the 17th. Randhwa, playing one group behind Chang, fired an "eagle" on the 16th hole, increased his lead over Chang to three strokes and parred the last two holes to collect $79,250.

“When I came off after the 14th hole, I told myself I needed a birdie to consolidate. I did not want to get to the 18th hole with just a one-shot lead or may be even tied. That’s when the amazing shot happened on the 16th. I hit a neat drive and then had 165 yards to the front edge of the green and 171 yards to the pin. The 8-iron shot pitched perfectly and I thought it was getting close and then I heard the roar and saw it had rolled in. I knew I had sealed the tournament,” recalled the champion. Randhawa has been concentrating more on the European Tour in the last two seasons. He had six top-10 finishes including a second place in the Open de Espana. Since Randhawa was accustomed to faster greens, he struggled on the first two days to get his putting right on the grainy greens of the Delhi Golf Club.

“I am struggling a bit when stroking my putts. I’ll blame it on the greens,” said a smiling Randhawa who repeatedly hit many putts short on the third day during this ‘comeback’ round. But he oozed confidence after moving into sole lead on the final day once Nirat dropped a shot early. Once ahead, there was no looking back for Randhawa.

It was Chang who moved into the second spot midway through the final round and posed a threat to Randhawa. But eventually, Chang had to settle for the second spot worth $54,250.

Jeev Milkha Singh, Gaurav Ghei, last season’s domestic Tour leader Ashok Kumar and the seasoned Mukesh Kumar were also considered contenders. However, it was the young Rahil Gangjee who finished as the second best Indian by taking the third spot for a cheque of $30,500. Gangjee made his move on the final day with a 66 — 10 strokes better than his penultimate round effort.

Jeev’s poor record on Indian courses continued. With a world ranking of 77, Jeev was the highest ranked golfer in the field, but could not come into contention. He started with a par round and followed it up with a 74 to be the last of the 73 golfers to make the ‘cut’ at 146. On the third day, Jeev was the first to tee off and playing without pressure, carded a 71. But it was his last-round 68 that saw him jump to the tied 13th spot for a respectable finish. Uttam Singh Mundy, the only man to get a rare ‘albatross’ on the third day, kept Jeev company.

Jeev admitted the course did not encourage his long-hitting game. On the tree-lined course, where staying on the fairway is of paramount importance, getting aggressive from the tee box can be very costly. Jeev could not contain his aggression despite knowing the danger and paid the price. Unlike Jeev, local favourite Gaurav Ghei moved into joint lead after the opening day but lost his way on the final day to finish joint 22.

Ashok Kumar shared the ninth spot with last year’s runner-up Chowrasia and Arjun Singh as five Indians made it among the first 11 finishers.