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Ajeetesh Sandhu’s best-placed Indian on Day 1 of Indian Open, Grillo leads

SNS | Gurugram |

Ajeetesh Sandhu’s classy four-under-68 made him the best-placed Indian on day one of the Hero Indian Open 2018. Ajeetesh, a winner on the Asian Tour in 2017, ended the day three strokes behind the clubhouse leader Emiliano Grillo of Argentina.

Sandhu was tied fifth in the clubhouse as 24 out of the total 144 golfers could not finish their rounds on Thursday due to fading light.

Arjun Atwal (71) was the only other Indian who finished with a sub-par round.

Among the other prominent Indian names who finished their rounds, were 2015 champion Anirban Lahiri (72), Jyoti Randhawa (72), the highest-ranked player in the field Shubhankar Sharma (73) and defending champion SSP Chawrasia (74).

Ajeetesh Sandhu, who enjoyed his breakout season on the Asian Tour in 2017 thanks to his victory in Taipei, got on a roll from the sixth hole onwards making four birdies over a stretch of eight holes. The highlight of the stretch was his approach on the 11th that landed within a foot.

The Chandigarh lad’s only blemish was the bogey on the 14th where he three-putted. The 29-year-old Sandhu collected another birdie on the 15th to end up as the only Indian in the top-10.

Ajeetesh said, “I can say today’s round was almost a dream round. My hitting was just amazing. I hit all fairways and made regulation on 17 out of 18 greens. We were a little lucky that the wind wasn’t up today otherwise this course can pose many more challenges.

“I just missed a few putts out there but that wasn’t due to bad putting. There were a few lip-outs.

“It’s just 18 holes done and a lot of golf is still to be played. So I’ll have to keep my thoughts in check since this golf course can come back and bite you at any moment. It’s a course that you can’t overpower. So the effort will be to continue in the same manner over the next three days by trying to find maximum fairways and greens.

“I was very comfortable playing with Jeev as I’ve played a lot of golf with him in Chandigarh. I must admit that there was a little pressure at the start as this is my National Open, but Jeev’s presence in the same group helped calm me down.”

Arjun Atwal was two-under through 13 holes but hit a rough patch when he dropped a double-bogey and a bogey on the 14th and 15th. However, the 1999 Indian Open champion rallied with birdies on the last two holes.

Anirban Lahiri, the 2015 champion, had a poor front-nine with two bogeys but managed to make ground on the back-nine with two birdies.

Lahiri said, “It was frustrating on the front-nine with a few bad drives and some putts missed. I had to stay calm going into the back-nine and that helped me. The back-nine was far better even though I got a little unlucky with the lip out on the 15th where I was in a good position for a birdie.

“I think the key here is to get the momentum going early in the round. Whoever did well today had the early momentum. I need to do the same in the coming rounds.”

Shubhankar Sharma, the pre-tournament favourite who entered the event fresh from his exploits at the WGC – Mexico Championship where he finished tied ninth, came up with a hard-fought 73 to keep himself in the mix. He was looking down the barrel with three bogeys and a double-bogey on the back-nine but then roared back with four birdies on the front-nine.

Shubhankar said, “I didn’t start the event the way I would’ve liked to. I found the hazard and the water on the back-nine. Nonetheless, I’m happy with my comeback on the front-nine and the way I finished the round. My ball-striking was good through the day.

“You can’t make mistakes here at the DLF Golf & Country Club as it’s a penalizing course. Playing here is a tough test of one’s ability, and one has to be on top of his game to do well. There’s a lot to learn from today’s round. I’ll look to make amends tomorrow after taking a lot of positives from the front-nine today.

“I wasn’t really fatigued but just a little tired because of the jetlag after traveling all the way from Mexico on Tuesday. Ironically, when the tiredness actually started creeping in on the front-nine, I started striking the ball better. I hit almost all fairways on the front-nine today.”

There was more good news for Shubhankar on Thursday as he received an invitation from none other than Rory McIlroy to play the practice round with him at the Masters.

Reacting to the news, an elated Shubhankar said, “I’m really excited about getting an invitation from Rory McIlroy to play the practice round with him at the Masters. It’s something I’m looking forward to.”

The Indian duo of Udayan Mane and amateur Kshitij Naveed Kaul were looking good with scores of two-under when play was suspended. While Udayan has two holes to finish in round one, Kshitij has just one to go.