Strong Indian challenge at Hero Honda Indian Open

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NEW DELHI - Gone are the days when Indian golfers made up numbers at major internationals events in Asia. But now with the Indian Open entering its 47th edition, Indians are major contenders. In fact, the list of Indian winners on Asian and other tours is growing by the season.

So, when this year’s Hero Honda Indian Open tees off Thursday, there will be a good number of Indians, who are past champions, and capable of winning the title this Sunday.

The Indians who have won this title and are in the field include Ali Sher (1991 and 1993), Firoze Ali (1998), Arjun Atwal (1999), Jyoti Randhawa (200, 2006 and 2007), Vijay Kumar (2002) and C Muniyappa (2009). And there is a good number of Indians who have not won the tournament but are capable. In that category fall Shiv Kapur, Anirban Lahiri and Gaurav Ghei.

Local favourite Kapur is counting on home comfort to drive him to a first victory at the $1.25 million Hero Honda Indian Open. He calls it his “fifth Major” and he is happy to be on his home course at the Delhi Golf Club after missing the Open in the last three years.

His title aspirations will be put to a severe test as a top field of Asian Tour stars including countryman Randhawa, a four-time winner at the fabled venue, history-maker Atwal, title holder C. Muniyappa, Thailands Thaworn Wiratchant, Swedens Daniel Chopra and Ryder Cup stalwart Paul McGinley of Ireland will also chase for honours.

“To play at home is always awesome,” said the 28-year-old Kapur, Asias Rookie of the Year in 2005. “This year, the dates were perfect and theres no stress of (fighting for) any card anywhere.

“Ive never won a professional event here. Ive finished second here in the SAIL Open earlier this year. So itll be nice to win in front of the home crowds,” added Kapur, who tied for eighth in the 2005 edition.

Atwal, who won the Indian Open 11 years ago, said, “The Indian Open is a very important part of my schedule and that is why I try and make it back every year no matter how I am playing or where I am playing. Winning our national Open is always a great feeling.

The 37-year-old’s last victory on the Asian Tour came in 2008 Malaysian Open, which was his seventh victory on the circuit. He topped the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 2003 before furthering his career in the United States.

Muniyappa completed a rags-to-riches victory when he triumphed in the Hero Honda Indian Open last year but his defence could be derailed by a back injury he picked up two weeks ago in Hong Kong.

“There is still pain. In yesterday’s pro-am, I was hitting only half shots,” said the 33-year-old.

McGinley, who holed the winning putt for Europe in the 2002 Ryder Cup, is looking forward to his debut in the Hero Honda Indian Open, which is the joint richest full field event on the Asian Tour.

After missing the first five months of the year through injury, the Irishman is keen to end his season on a high. “The course is one of the best weve ever played. I love old fashioned courses. It suits my game and I wish we could play on these sort of courses every week unlike the modern courses which has water all over the place and close to 8,000 yards long.” he said.

Chopra, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, made a late dash from the United States to get to New Delhi, arriving only at 4am Wednesday. After losing his card in America, the Swede with Indian heritage plans to salvage his season with a victory.

“Im keeping my expectations as low as possible but my excitement level is very high as I started working with a new coach Mitchell Spearman three weeks ago and hes shown me stuff in my golf swing that has taken me by complete surprise. Within a couple of weeks, it has transformed the way I have hit the ball,” said Chopra.

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