Himmat Rai takes sole lead at Iskandar Johor Open

Friday, October 23, 2009

JOHOR BAHRU - Yet another emerging star in Indian golf made his presence felt at the Iskandar Johor Open here Friday.

Himmat Rai, who had played only nine holes on first day, completed his first round in a stunning eight-under 64 and then added a five-under 67 to go into sole lead even at 11-under, even as the second round was yet to be completed

He was one shot clear of the tournament marquee name K.J. Choi (68-64) hot on his heels, who shared the second spot with Darren Beck (68-64).

The young Indian, who only had 30 minutes to rest after completing his first round where he also took the first round lead, was in superb form as he posted a five-under-par 67 for a two-day total of 13-under-par 131 at the $1 million full field Asian Tour tournament.

Asian Tour honorary member Choi and one-time Asian Tour winner Darren Beck of Australia are a further stroke back after the duo posted matching 64s for a 132 total at the Royal Johor Country Club.

Inclement weather continued to affect play throughout the two rounds, leaving officials no choice but to reduce the tournament to a 54-hole stroke play tournament. Round two will resume Saturday morning. 24 players are yet to complete their second round.

Rai, looking for his maiden win on the Asian Tour, fired a remarkable eagle on his second hole when his chip found the hole from 10 yards. He posted four more birdies against one bogey before taking a one-stroke lead.

It is really satisfying because I have been practising hard. My game plan with my caddie worked out well for us and I am glad to be on top the leaderboard, said the 22-year-old.

Despite completing nine holes this morning, Rai held his nerve and continued his surge up the leaderboard and managed to break away from Choi and Beck with a birdie on the 16th hole.

Resuming play this morning did not perturb me because as a professional, I have to prepare myself mentally for rounds such as this. Everything went my way today, I hit my shots well and took full advantage of that. This is my best performance so far this season, said the Indian, who along with Gaganjeet Bhullar, winner of Indonesia President Invitational, and Anirban Lahiri, third at Hero Honda Indian Open is seen as the Gen-Next of Indian golf.

Ashok Kumar (70-69) was tied 12th and Jyoti Randhawa (71-69) was tied 17th.

Lahiri was five-under after being two-under through 15 holes in second round. Bhullar and Rahil Gangjee were yet to begin their second round after first round 69s. Hero Honda Indian Open winner C. Muniyappa was tied 28th with rounds of 70 and 71.

S.S.P. Chowrasia (70) and Digvijay Singh (71) were yet to begin the second round, while Manav Jaini was even after 15 holes in second round, Arjun Singh (72-73) was tied 102nd, Gaurav Ghei (74-72) was tied 111th.

Rahul Ganapathy and Vikrant Chopra had played just three and four holes in second round after first round 76 and 75 and Karanjit Sandhu retired after a first round 76.

Asian Tour honorary member Choi held true to his word that he would revive his stuttering form this week by posting a blemish free round highlighted by eight birdies.

Beck credited his return to form to a deserving rest that he had taken after the Hero Honda Indian Open.

I have been putting well up to my Brunei Open win but lost my rhythm. I have been working on that and I needed a little bit of rest. I did not play after India and recovered a little bit so I feel a little bit fresher and that definitely helped, added the Australian.

Chinese Taipeis Chang Tse-peng continued his impressive form as he stayed in touch with the clubhouse leader on 133. Thailands Chapchai Nirat also gave himself a fighting chance with a 65 for a 134 total.

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