Top Indian stars look to a great start at Avantha Masters

Sunday, February 13, 2011

GURGAON - Indian golfers, a big force to reckon with on their home soil, will be the strongest contenders as the 1.8 million euros

($2.3 million) Avantha Masters takes off next week.

The event, co-sanctioned with the European and Asian Tours, will be staged Feb 17-20 at the DLF Golf and Country Club here.

The Avantha Masters is the biggest professional event in India. Started last year with a purse of 1.5 million euros, it has increased the purse by 20 per cent this year adding to the excitement.

Defending the title will be Andrew Dodt of Australia.

The local brigade will be spearheaded by Asian Tour honorary member and two-time Order of Merit winner, Jeev Milkha Singh who will be hoping to bounce back after a dismal 2010 season plagued by injuries.

I just want to prepare myself to be injury-free in 2011. Becoming fit, and keeping that way, is definitely my priority number one. And if I can manage to do that, I think I will be able to achieve all my other ambitions.

2010 was a stop-and-start one and I had absolutely no momentum. Just when I thought I was getting back into the swing of things, I got injured again. It was extremely frustrating, wrote Singh in his blog.

All eyes will also be on Indias Gaganjeet Bhullar who got his pre-season preparations off to the best possible start when he won three titles in a row and then had another top-10 last week.

I am currently on a winning streak there is a lot of positive energy around me and that helps me come through even in tough situations. This is the second hat-trick of titles in my career and it has given me the much-needed momentum ahead of a long and grueling season, said Bhullar.

Indian stars primed for the event include Rahil Gangjee, who recently qualified for the Nationwide. Gangjee last year had a share of the lead coming into the final round, but faltered on the last day.

Jyoti Randhawa, five-times winner of Asian Tour events in India, will be hoping to turn his form around and there is Shiv Kapur, who had an excellent outing at the Hero Honda Indian Open in December. SSP Chowrasia, winner of the Emaar Masters the first-ever event in India to be co-sanctioned by Asian and European Tours in 2008, is also looking to change his fortunes here.

Anirban Lahiri and Himmat Rai, two other talented youngsters will also be raring to go. Indias latest entrant into pro ranks, Rashid Khan, will be hoping to add to his amateur reputation which includes an Asian Games team silver medal.

Amongst the foreign players, much will be expected from three-time Asian Tour Order of Merit winner, Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand, who currently holds the record of having the most Asian Tour wins with 13 victories.

The Thai intends to keep up his winning ways but knows that he must start putting more consistently to stay in contention weekly.

I hope to improve my putting as it is crucial to scoring low. It was not very steady last year and I have been working very hard lately to get myself prepared. I have also been working hard in the gym, hoping to hit the ball a bit longer too, said Thongchai.

The other stars include Singapores Mardan Mamat, Japans Tetsuji Hiratsuka and 2010 Asian Tour rookie of the year, Rikard Karlberg of Sweden, who has a combined total of seven Asian Tour titles.

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