Panasonic Open: Mukesh Kumar takes two-stroke lead

Mukesh Kumar, 51, carded a second-round three-under 69 for a tally of 136, two better than Khalin Joshi, Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond and Sri Lanka’s Mithun Perera.

Mukesh Kumar Panasonic Open

Should 51-year-old Mukesh Kumar hold his nerves and beat the field at the Panasonic Open on Sunday, he could well be the oldest first-time winner on the Asian Tour.   -  Special Arrangement

Armed with a two-stroke lead ahead of the final round of USD 400,000 Panasonic Open, Mukesh Kumar finds himself at the threshold of history.

Should this 51-year-old seasoned pro hold his nerves and beat the field on Sunday, he could well be the oldest first-time winner on the Asian Tour.

Mukesh, who has already spoken about retiring from golf after winning two more titles, carded a second-round three-under 69 for a tally of 136, two better than Khalin Joshi, Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond and Sri Lanka’s Mithun Perera.

With the event curtailed to three rounds, the ‘cut’ – that came at four-over 148 – left 42 Indians in a field of 73 players for Sunday’s final round.

Jeev Milkha Singh, following unimpressive rounds of three-over 75 and 73, survived the ‘cut’ after being tied 64th. Shiv Kapur was among those who missed out in spite of bringing in an improved 71 after a first-round 80!

But the day clearly belonged to Mukesh. He began with a hat-trick of birdies – the longest being a 15-footer on the third hole – and added one more on the par-5 eighth hole to move to nine-under for a three-shot lead.

After taking the ‘turn’ with a 32, Mukesh went on to bogey the 12th and 16th holes. On both, Mukesh found bunkers and could not chip out properly and two-putted. Undeterred, Mukesh picked up a shot on the par-three 17th where he sank a birdie-putt from 12 feet.

“My putting did the job for me as the percentage of the left to right putt-conversion was higher than in the first round. However, I’d look to improve on that. The first three birdies set up the round for me and raised my confidence,” said the leader.

Looking ahead to Sunday, Mukesh said, “I hardly use the driver and the 3-wood here and I’ll follow the same approach. However, I will look to be a little more aggressive as the field is very strong and there are a lot of good players chasing me. I’ll use all my experience of playing at the DGC for so many years.”

Hole-in-one

Late in the round, Mukesh had to share the limelight with Korea’s Sung Lee. Lee fired a rare ‘hole-in-one’ on the 177-yard par-3 fifth hole and won a BMW Z4 car worth around Rs. 75 lakh. He nailed it perfectly well as the ball covered 163 yards to the front of the green and travelled another 14 yards on the green to fill the cup.

Lee, born deaf, started with a triple-bogey on the 10th hole. He picked up a stroke on the next hole to steady his nerves. He reeled off a hat-trick of birdies – on the 18th, first and second holes – before firing his career’s second hole-in-one for a day-end 68. Incredibly, he needed only 21 putts on 18 holes and more than made up for missing nine greens in regulation (GIR).

The scores:

Mukesh Kumar (67, 69) 136; Jazz Janewattananond (Tha) (69, 69), Khalin Joshi (67, 71), Mithun Perera (Sri) (70, 68), Shankar Das (71, 67) 138; Rashid Khan (67, 72), Shubhankar Sharma (71, 68), Chiragh Kumar (71, 68); Jyoti Randhawa (67, 72), Deepinder Singh Kullar (73, 66) 139.

Other Indians with sub-par scores: Kapil Kumar (68, 72), Sanjeev Kumar (71, 69), Om Prakash Chouhan (72, 68) 140; Shamim Khan (67, 74), Arjun Atwal (69, 72), Digvijay Singh (70, 71) 141; Honey Baisoya (73, 69), Angad Cheema (71, 71), Abhinav Lohan (72, 70) 142; Ashok Kumar (70, 73), S. Chikkarangappa (71, 72), M. Dharma (71, 72) and Gaurav Pratap Singh (71, 72) 143.