India’s top golfer Anirban Lahiri is set to make his debut at the prestigious PGA-sanctioned Hero World Challenge starting here on Thursday as he competes alongside an elite group of 18 players, including world no.1 Jordan Spieth.

Lahiri, who is the brand ambassador of Hero MotoCorp, is the first Indian player to feature in the $3.5 million event, which has a $1 million winner’s prize purse and also carries official World Golf Ranking points. He comes in as a special exemption player along with Bill Haas (US).

Lahiri, 28, earned his PGA TOUR card for the 2015-16 season and made headlines in 2015 after winning twice worldwide, including the Hero Indian Open. He also became the first Indian player to feature in the Presidents Cup in October.

The Pune-born player played all four Majors and World Golf Championships in 2015, and the highlight of the year was a fifth-place finish at the PGA Championships, the best-ever by an Indian.

"Yeah, it’s been a very, very important year for me.

It’s been a great year, lots of firsts. Getting my card for next year in America, playing the Presidents Cup, top five at Whistling Straits. So I’ve had a highlight-filled year. But just being here at such a great event amongst the best players in the world," Lahiri said at the Albany Golf Course.

"I would like to thank Munjal and the Tiger Woods Foundation for having me because these are the kind of events and fields that you want to play against every week and I’m really excited. So I’m looking forward to a good week," he added. 

Hero MotoCorp Chairman, MD and CEO Pawan Munjal said the world’s largest two-wheeler company is responsible for adding to the popularity of golf in India.

"Golf clearly in India has been growing at a very fast pace and we at Hero have a major hand in the development of golf in India. Not just in India, but Hero has been associated with various events across the globe now, and I keep talking about Hero being a sponsor on five different tours concurrently," Munjal said.

Major championship winners Spieth (Masters and US Open), Jason Day (PGA Championship) and Zach Johnson (British Open) headline the field, which has an interesting mix of exciting golfing talent from across the world.

World No.1 Spieth, 22, is also the defending champion after he won the last edition in Florida. The young US golfer won the previous tournament by 10 shots, shooting an event-record 26-under.

Rounding off the list of major champions in this month’s invitational are Justin Rose (2013 US Open) and Adam Scott (2013 Masters).

The tournament field also includes three of the past five PGA TOUR FedExCup champions in 2015 winner Spieth, 2014 winner Billy Horschel (USA) and 2011 winner Haas. Spieth and Horschel are in their 20s, which further speaks volumes about the rise of golf’s next generation on the PGA TOUR.

Woods, who has won the event maximum number of times in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2011, will not join the playing field as he is recovering from a back injury.

The Hero World Challenge is a four-round, 72-hole stroke play event, which is happening for the first time outside the US.

Though the tournament will not take on a match-play format, this year’s event will showcase 14 golfers who played in October’s Presidents Cup and 10 of the 12 players that comprised the US team — Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Jimmy Walker, JB Holmes, Patrick Reed, Chris Kirk and Haas.

This year’s edition also attracts a young field with eight of the 18 golfers in their 20s. Spieth, 22, is the tournament’s youngest player and rookies include Koepka, Holmes and Lahiri.

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