Defending champ Lahiri leads strong home challenge at SAIL-SBI Open
Defending champion Anirban Lahiri will lead a strong home challenge, but the in-form Shiv Kapur, who has won each of his last two starts, world record holder Chapchai Nirat and four-time Asian Tour winner Gaganjeet Bhullar, will be formidable opponents in the sixth edition of the SAIL-SBI Open presented by Incredible India.
The event carrying a purse of $ 300,000 tees off at the venerable Delhi Golf Club on Wednesday. The field has nearly 30 past winners of Asian Tour, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Present at the official press conference on the eve of the sixth edition were Mrs. Arti Luniya, Executive Director, Corporate Affairs, SAIL, Mr. Santosh Nayar, Deputy Managing Director, Corporate Banking, SBI, Mr. IVS Juneja, President Delhi Golf Club, Mr. Wanchai Meetei, Tournament Director, Mr. Padamjit Sandhu, Director PGTI, Mr. Kajal Ghose of SBI and the players, defending champion Anirban Lahiri, Shiv Kapur and Chapchai Nirat, winner in 2009.
Lahiri, who won this event in 2012 for his second Asian Tour title will face stiff competition from many of his own colleagues, including four-time Asian Tour winner, Gaganjeet Bhullar, the in-form Shiv Kapur, eight-time Asian Tour winner, Jyoti Randhawa, two-time winner in co-sanctioned events, SSP Chowrasia, Digvijay Singh and Himmat Rai.
“It was nice to be the first Indian in five years to win the SAIL-SBI Open last year. It was a tough contest and I enjoyed it,” said Lahiri.
Lahiri will make his first start of the year after skipping the Myanmar event two weeks ago. Time off with his family and friends at home have recharged his batteries after a successful 2012 campaign and the 25-year-old is looking forward to retain his title.
“I played in a few fun events at home earlier in the year but it’s fun to get back into the serious tournaments,” added Lahiri.
Previously, Lahiri found the demanding Delhi course too difficult to handle due to its dense jungle which lines the fairways but the young Indian has now won twice at the venue. “I feel comfortable now and I’ve had two wins and two top-10s in my last four starts on this course. You need to rein yourself in here and play within yourself and stick to the game plan. The driver will be out of the bag for sure,” he said.
Kapur sees the DGC as his home course but has never won here. “This is certainly one of our strongest fields ever,” said Kapur of the sixth edition of the tournament. “But I do think we’ll get an Indian winner this week. Hopefully it will be me but I know I can’t be pushing too hard as I have often come in my own way in the past to get that win.”
Big-hitting Bhullar has already accumulated four career victories on the Asian Tour but has surprisingly not won in front of his fans. He finished tied sixth in the SAIL-SBI Open and tied second in the Panasonic Open India last year at the Delhi Golf Club.
Bhullar hopes last season’s success will be the springboard to more victories in 2013. “It was a great season. I had a couple of top-10s, top-fives and two victories. There’re still a lot to learn but I have a lot of positives from last season,” he said.
He was especially pleased with his mental strength throughout 2012. “I’ve been trying to stay patient for a long time and I think I handled it well. Patience will definitely help me over the years,” he said.
Four years ago, it was at the very event that Chapchai Nirat set a world record of 32-under in 2009. However, Chapchai has not win on Asian Tour since and he seeks to rectify that.
The international challenge will also come from the likes of Thai Chawalit Plaphol, Sri Lanka’s hugely talented Mithun Perera, who were one-two at the Zaykabar Myanmar Open, which heralded the start of the historic start of the 10th season of Asian Tour, will also make a strong bid for the title.
Bangladesh’s Siddikur, Australians Scott Barr and Marcus Both, veteran Singaporean Mardan Mamat, Americans Berry Henson and Jonathan Moore will be among strong candidates for the top honours.
Adding more muscle to the Indian challenge will be the likes of Shamim Khan and Rashid Khan, the No. 1 and 2 of the Indian PGTI Tour, besides 47-year-old Mukesh Kumar, who has won more than 100 titles at home.
The two big successes of Indian golf in 2012 were Bhullar who secured two wins at the Venetian Macau Open and Yeangder Tournament Players Championship in Taipei en route to finishing a career high fifth on the Order of Merit. Lahiri won the SAIL-SBI Open and also produced an outstanding Major debut at the British Open where he tied for 31st place besides landing a historic hole-in-one.
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