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Sport - Golf

Mamat, del Olmo share lead
By K.P. Mohan


Vinod Kumar attempts to get out of the bunker on the ninth hole on the opening day of the Indian Open golf championship in New Delhi on Thursday. Vinod finished a stroke behind joint leaders Mamat and del Olmo. - Photo: V.V. Krishnan

NEW DELHI, MARCH 14. Mardan Mamat, who is remembered for being the first Singaporean to qualify for the British Open alongside Gaurav Ghei in 1997, was on top of the leaderboard, jointly with a little- known Mexican, as the $3,00,000 Royal Challenge Indian Open kicked off in bright sunshine at the Delhi Golf Club course here on Thursday.

Mamat and Pablo del Olmo returned cards of six-under 66 on a day of limited success for the Indian golfers. Tied at the second spot, along with two others, just a stroke behind the leaders was an unheralded, unassuming Delhi caddy-turned pro, Vinod Kumar. Andrew Pitts of the U.S. and Jason Dawes of Australia were the ones keeping Vinod company.

Behind a bunch of another three, Delhi's Arjun Singh gained a share of the fifth place at 69, with six others including Shiv Shankar Prasad Chaurasia who dropped three strokes on the last four holes for an anti-climactic finish to a dream run.

Despite two double bogeys on his outward journey, on the 13th and 16th, the Hero Honda Masters winner, Harmeet Kahlon, kept himself in the race with a two-under 70 to be tied at the sixth place. The Chandigarh star, the highest-ranked Asian PGA Tour regular in this tournament, after the last-minute withdrawal of Thai Prayad Marksaeng, felt satisfied with his show, especially considering the spot of trouble that he got into. Kahlon went into the bushes on both the 13th and 16th, but his six birdies helped him keep the front-runners in sight.

The drivers were out rarely as the seasoned golfers, wary of the bushes, preferred the irons off the tees. Yet, the bushes played their part in spoiling many a card. Australian Jason Dawes, going smoothly at six-under was one such golfer as he drove into the bushes on the sixth, dropping a stroke.

Mamat hardly put a foot wrong through the course of the day after having started from the 10th. Birdies on the 13th and 18th gave the 35-year-old Singaporean a modest two-under on the turn, but he slotted in three birdies and an eagle, on the eighth, as he wrested a share of the lead from the Mexican. There was one bogey, on the fourth, as well.

Pablo del Olmo, making his debut at the DGC, also starting on the 10th, had a splendid string of four birdies each in either half, but back-to-back bogeys on the third and fourth put the brakes on his spectacular run. The man from Monterrey, having started early morning had a windless outward journey, but the winds, though mild, did disturb him and others in the afternoon.

Vinod Kumar, a `chela' of veteran Rohtas Singh - who himself carded a 71 - enjoyed himself thoroughly as he threatened to take a share of the opening-day lead. Alas, Vinod, the son of a DGC caddy, landed up in the bunker on the ninth, his final hole, came out too long and missed a 12-foot putt to be denied that honour.

Still, the 21-year-old Vinod, who failed to make the `cut' in the last Open, had a satisfying day and looked forward to another fruitful round on the morrow. A 12-foot eagle, after the driver off the tee and a three-iron into the green on the 18th, was his best for the day. Vinod also had birdies on the 14th, first, fourth, sixth and eighth. Apart from the ninth, he dropped one on the 12th, too.

Among the Indian hopefuls, Vijay Kumar was on 70, Feroz Ali on 73 and Gaurav Ghei hopelessly out of the race, at least by the looks of it, at 76. The better fare, from among the lesser-rated Indians, came from Devender Patel and Rahil Gangjee, both at 70.

With just the opening day completed, it is too early to say how fortunes will swing towards determining the champion who stands to collect $50,000.

The scores: Mardan Mamat (Sin) and Pablo del Olmo (Mex) 66; Andrew Pitts (U.S.), Jason Dawes (Aus) and Vinod Kumar (Ind) 67; Akio Sadakata (Jpn), Craig Kamps (RSA) and Mo Joong Kyung (Kor) 68; Arjun Singh (Ind), Dean Alaban (Aus), Gerry Norquist (U.S.), Panupong Bulsombath (Tha), Rick Gibson (Can), S.S.P. Chaurasia (Ind) and Steve Jurgensen (U.S.) 69; Akinori Tani (Jpn), Anthony Kang (Kor), Devender Patel (Ind), Harmeet Kahlon (Ind), Hendrik Buhrmann (RSA), Jeff Burns (U.S.), Olle Nordberg (Swe), Rafael Ponce (Ecu), Rahil Gangjee (Ind), Terry Pilkadaris (Aus), Thammanoon Srirojh (Tha), Thaworn Wiratchant (Tha) and Vijay Kumar (Ind) 70.

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