Vijay Kumar adds another title to his growing collection

"STILL this win is satisfying because I have been working on a different swing and I am still in the midst of perfecting it," said 34-year-old Vijay Kumar after adding 49th title to his growing collection by winning the Rs. 10 lakh SRF all-India Matchplay championship at the Delhi Golf Club (DGC) course.

KIRTI PATIL

"STILL this win is satisfying because I have been working on a different swing and I am still in the midst of perfecting it," said 34-year-old Vijay Kumar after adding 49th title to his growing collection by winning the Rs. 10 lakh SRF all-India Matchplay championship at the Delhi Golf Club (DGC) course.

Vijay Kumar holds the SRF All-India Matchplay Trophy, at the Delhi Golf Club. - Pic. RAJEEV BHATT-

The presence of Jeev Milkha Singh and Arjun Atwal notwithstanding, Vijay Kumar would quietly rise from the second quarter to annex the glittering silver ware, and the winner's cheque of Rs. 1,75,000.

Playing in his second year as a pro, Kolkata's Rahil Gangjee provided a fitting finale to the championship. Vijay Kumar won two and one, on the 35th hole, after briefly letting his lead slip from four holes to one.

It was Vijay's only third title of the 2002-03 season in which he spent about an equal time on the Indian and Asian PGA Tours. Basically, this year has been one of experimentation and some bold decisions. The results may not be that satisfying, but it is Vijay Kumar's resilience that is noteworthy.

Among Vijay's contemporaries, there have hardly been any Indian caddie-turned-pro who ventured out of the domestic circuit. Though Vijay featured regularly in the Asian PGA events since 1995, but those were all staged in India.

It took the dawn of 2002 for Vijay to actually leave the Indian shores and play in the APGA Tour events in other countries. The provocation was his 2002 Indian Open win, which gave him the boost. Despite lack of sponsors, he decided to fund himself.

The first season outside was not so satisfying. Vijay missed four cuts in six tournaments he participated, but the experiement still continues.

Thankfully, now he has a sponsor — Cosmo Films — which gives him some leverage while travelling abroad.

Rahil Gangjee, the runner-up in the championship. - Pic. RAJEEV BHATT-

The more tournaments he participated outside, the more he missed on the Indian tour. And, considering his calibre, he sure has missed major chunk of prize money here.

"I have played less on the Indian Tour this season. The APGA is appealing but then you don't make cuts in all the tournaments so the travel and stay virtually becomes a burden," Vijay said.

"Basically I am looking to play on the APGA Tour when there would be a series of events every following week," he said.

"Travelling out for just one event and returning back will be a bad investment for me. What I am looking at is three to four events in a series so that I could save on my air tickets," he said.

Vijay was referring to the APGA Tour calendar. The series of events take off from September which is what Vijay has been aiming at.

One thing was sure that the field was one of the best seen in a Matchplay championship, though Jyoti Randhawa was a major absentee.

The foremost was the exit of Jeev Milkha Singh in the first round itself. Drawn to play DGC's caddle-turned-pro Prem, Jeev just couldn't carry on in Delhi's heat. An ear infection added to his woes as Prem won the 17th hole (one up).

From the same quarter as Jeev, Gangjee made a steady start and booked his berth to the final beating the fellow Kolkatan Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia.

Interestingly, the first quarter led by Arjun Atwal saw the most of the upheavals. From nowhere, Jaiveer Virk bounced and gobbled up eighth and ninth seeds. In the second round Virk outclassed ninth seed Gaurav Ghel four and three and then edged past Arjun Singh in the pre-quarterfinals.

Then, a carefree Virk stayed just close to Atwal before losing out to the favourite by one hole. It all boiled down to the 18th, but despite a birdie Virk was unable to force a play-off.

Atwal moved into the semifinals, but the next day he made a no-show leaving Vijay a full day's rest. And probably, that gave him the edge when Vijay squared against Gangjee the next day.

The results:

Final: Vijay Kumar bt Rahil Gangjee 2 and 1; Semifinals: Vijay Kumar w.o Arjun Atwal; Gangjee bt S.S.P. Chowrasia 2 and 1; Quarterfinals: Atwal bt Jaiveer Virk 1 up; Vijay Kumar bt Vinod Kumar 6 and 4; Gangjee bt Pappan 2 and 1; Chowrasia bt Rafiq Ali 4 and 2.