From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.36 :: Sep. 05, 2009

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GOLF / TAMIL NADU OPEN

Vijay gives Mukesh a scare

Vijay Kumar made a terrific surge to catch up with Mukesh Kumar, who had a seven-stroke lead! But then he faltered on the 15th hole. Over to K. Keerthivasan.

S. S. KUMAR

Mukesh Kumar... all’s well that ends well.

“The better you putt, the bolder you play,” said Don January, former American golfer and now a famous course designer.

True to January’s words, Vijay Kumar got bolder after every hole as his putting got progressively better on the fourth and final day of the Rs. 20-lakh PGTI 125th year Tamil Nadu Open golf championship at the Gymkhana annexe in Chennai. He did putt wonderfully well that day, firing birdies at will, an effort that took Mukesh Kumar completely by surprise. A resilient golfer, Vijay has finished in the top 10 in the Order of Merit list eight times last year, and is considered one of the most dangerous players on the PGTI tour.

A powerful driver, a fine putter — though inconsistent at times — and a tactful player with a fine sense of angles, Vijay came up with a superlative performance that day. As he was enjoying a cushion of seven strokes overnight, it was taken for granted that Mukesh, the reigning PGTI Order of Merit list champion, would take the winner’s cheque of Rs. 3,23,300 and the third title of the year. But such was Vijay’s stunning resurgence that the 44-year-old Mukesh from the Military Headquarters of War (Madhya Pradesh) could only clinch the title by the skin of his teeth — with a two-stroke win.

A seven-stroke lead is a huge one and Mukesh was very much aware of this when he said that he’d play attacking golf on the front nine on the last day and then decide the course of play. As things panned out, Mukesh was patchy, but those who walked with him — most of them his fans — never lost faith in the champion. Ekambaram, a businessman, had total trust in Mukesh mentioning that he would go on to win come what may. “It’s Vijay who has to play really well and do catch-up,” said Suresh, an official.

On the final day, Mukesh had a three-day total of 14 under 196 while Vijay and Digvijay Singh were joint second with identical scores of seven-under 203. By the end of the front nine, Digvijay faded out thereby making it a contest between Mukesh and Vijay. Looking back, Digvijay didn’t perform badly at all: he had one-under on the front nine and finished on par in the back stretch.

Making the turn at one-under, Vijay was awesome on the back nine. With birdies on the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th, Vijay levelled the scores with Mukesh at 12-under after the 14th.

However, the par 4-15th hole proved Vijay’s downfall. His second shot landed in the bushes. Vijay incurred a penalty, missed a regulation putt for par and ended up with a bogey. And Mukesh, the champion that he is, came up with a birdie that helped him take a two-stroke lead. He maintained it till the end.

After filing his mandatory card for the day, Mukesh said Vijay’s putting was extraordinary. “I haven’t seen him putt like this for a long time. I’m glad that I came through despite struggling with my putting. The 15th turned out to be the decisive hole as I made a very good birdie from six feet,” observed Mukesh.

Mukesh is now second behind Gaganjeet Bhullar on the Order of Merit list. “Bhullar is a young and exciting talent. But I have the experience to beat him,” said Mukesh.

With the second place finish, his best this season, Vijay climbed from fourth to third on the Order of Merit list. Chennai’s Pradyumna Prakash won the amateur title, finishing with an 11 over 291. He was 48th in the overall standings.

The leaderboard

1. Mukesh Kumar (Mhow) 267 (65, 65, 66, 71); 2. Vijay Kumar (Lucknow) 269 (68, 68, 67, 66); 3. Shamim Khan (Delhi) 272 (67, 65, 72, 68), Digvijay Singh (DLF, Gurgaon) 272 (65, 70, 68, 69); 5. Gurbaaz Mann (Chandigarh) 274 (65, 72, 69, 68), Vishal Singh (Jaipur) 274 (66, 68, 70, 70).

Best amateur score: Pradyumna Prakash (Chennai) 291 (73, 69, 76, 73).



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