PGTI Players Championship: Mukesh Kumar back with vengeance; shoots opening round 64 for sole lead

Mukesh Kumar Round 1 leader PGTI Players ChampionshipBengaluru: Old warhorse Mukesh Kumar of Mhow, who missed the cut at the PGTI’s season-opener at Kochi last week, came back with a vengeance on day one of the PGTI Players Championship presented by Eagleton – The Golf Resort as he snatched the lead with a determined bogey-free eight-under-64.

Bengaluru’s Udayan Mane capitalized on the familiar conditions at his home course to grab a share of second place at seven-under-65 along with Gurgaon’s Shubhankar Sharma and unfancied Shivendra Singh Sisodia of Delhi.

Local favourite Chikkarangappa produced a 67 to be within striking distance of the lead in tied fifth along with Delhi’s Kapil Kumar on a day that witnessed 51 under-par scores.

Veteran Mukesh Kumar, who finished second in the Rolex Ranking 2015, hardly misses a cut in professional golf, but even when he does so, he has a reputation of coming back stronger in the next event. The 50-year-old missed the cut in Hyderabad last year and then went on to win the following week in Kochi.

Mukesh would look to repeat the feat this time as well. He suffered an injury to his left hand during the first round in Kochi which led to him missing the cut. But he has once again got off to a good start in the following event, an ominous sign for his fellow competitors.

“I would’ve been in contention last week had my hand not rammed into a tree while swinging in the first round. I’ve now recovered from the injury and will look to make up for last week,” said a resolute Mukesh.

Mukesh, who last won the TATA Open just two months back, made three birdies till the turn but then added another five in the second half to shoot his best-ever score at Eagleton. He landed it within three feet of the flag on four occasions for tap-in birdies.

Mukesh added, “This is my best score at Eagleton and therefore quite a satisfying round. I was consistently landing it close and even narrowly missed an eagle from 10 feet on the seventh. I also missed two easy birdie putts from three feet. I think the winning score could go to 20 to 22 under this week.”

Udayan Mane, the 2015 PGTI Emerging Player of the Year, was one-under through three holes at his home course, before he came up with six birdies on seven holes from the 13th to the first thanks to some brilliant hitting and a couple of long putts.

“I played equally well on the front-nine and back-nine, but I didn’t score well on the front-nine. The wind was swirling today and was there in patches not throughout the round.

“Last week’s event on the Asian Tour was a learning experience. After the highs of last year, I missed the cut in Bangladesh before coming here. That was a signal for me to pull up my socks. I’ll look to rip apart the course again in round two,” said a confident Mane.

Shubhankar Sharma, one of the pre-tournament favourites, mixed eight birdies with a lone bogey in his round. Shubhankar’s round featured three long birdie putts and some quality chip-putts.

Sharma, who secured third place at the Asian Tour event last week, said, “I kept the errors out of my game today and even the bogey came as a result of a bad bounce. I made some tricky putts and recovered well after hitting it over the green on a couple of occasions.”

Shivendra Singh Sisodia, who was the joint first round leader last week, produced an eagle, six birdies and a bogey to be in a three-way tie for second position. The 26-year-old who came through the Qualifying School this year, has been the surprise package of the season so far, having posted a tied 23rd finish in the opening event.

Chikkarangappa occupied tied fifth place with Kapil Kumar. Chikka was two-under through 14 holes before his hat-trick of birdies on the 15, 16 and 17 where he landed it within seven feet on all three occasions.

The Bengaluru duo of C Muniyappa and amateur Rahul Ravi were among the 12 golfers bunched together in tied seventh at four-under-68.