Defending champ Ashok Kumar faces stiff challenge from youth brigade at CG Open 2016

Ashok KumarMumbai: As the 2016 PGTI season draws to an end, the race for the Rolex Player of the Year title has entered an intriguing phase. There are several contenders in the fray with just three events remaining in the season.

The first of these three events, the Rs. 1 crore CG Open 2016, tees off at the Bombay Presidency Golf Club (BPGC) in Mumbai on November 23. With the CG Open champion set to take home a purse of Rs. 15 lakh, the tournament might well be decisive in determining this season’s Rolex Ranking champion.

Defending champion Ashok Kumar of Delhi will be one of the top contenders as he relishes playing at the BPGC having won two editions of the CG Open at the venue. Ashok won a title last month and is raring to go at one of his favourite courses. The 33-year-old is currently placed 17th in the money list, but a win at BPGC could give him a shot at the Rolex Ranking crown.

“I’m looking forward to defending my title despite a minor injury in my left wrist. I always begin a tournament with the mindset of winning it and that does put a little pressure on me. But this has been a lucky course for me since I’ve always performed well here.

“The strategy is to play every hole with a different plan. A win here will definitely give me the much-needed confidence to achieve my next goal which is qualifying for the Asian Tour,” said a determined Ashok.

However, the seasoned reigning champion will face a stiff challenge from the youth brigade comprising of the likes of Rashid Khan, Shubhankar Sharma, Khalin Joshi, Honey Baisoya and Ajeetesh Sandhu.

Delhi’s Rashid Khan, a winner of two titles on the PGTI this season, will be looking to set the record straight at the CG Open where he has lost two playoffs in recent years. Rashid, placed seventh in the rankings, won’t let his mentor, Ashok Kumar, have it easy at the BPGC.

“I’ve generally played well here but it’s been disappointing to lose those two playoffs. However, that’s in the past, I’ll start afresh this week. I suffered an injury to my left wrist during the Asian Tour event in the Philippines two weeks back due to which I had to withdraw from the event. I didn’t play last week either. But the injury is much better now and I hope to carry forward my form from previous events into this week.

“I feel that the toughest holes on this course are the ninth, 14th and 15th. If one does not drop shots there, you could end up with a good round,” said the 25-year-old Rashid, a winner of two Asian Tour titles.

The 20-year-old Shubhankar Sharma, placed third in the Rolex Ranking, will be inspired by his recent top-5 finish on the Asian Tour that all but secured his card for next year.

The Panchkula-based Shubhankar said, “My round of 10-under-62 in Manila had a huge impact on my rankings and my confidence. It helped me turn around my season. Having almost ensured my Asian Tour card, I’m now in a relaxed frame of mind and eager to win the Rolex Ranking title.

“The course at the BPGC is in immaculate condition. There will be a premium on hitting the fairways and keeping the errors out this week. One also needs to putt really well,” added the double winner on the PGTI this year.

The 24-year-old Bengalurean Khalin Joshi, another winner on the PGTI this season, is currently placed fifth in the rankings. He is keen to put together a solid week in Mumbai in order to stake his claim to the Rolex Ranking title.

Khalin said, “I love coming back to Mumbai to play as the course is to my liking and I have a lot of friends here. A good performance here will give me a huge boost before I head to the Asian Tour event in Delhi where I have to win to secure my card.

“I’m driving it well but my short-game needs more work. The experience on the Asian Tour this year has really helped me grow as a player. I’ll look to end the year on a high.”

Ajeetesh Sandhu, currently fourth in the Rolex Ranking, would be another major contender this week. The golfer from Chandigarh would be in high spirits having recently made it to the Final Stage of the Japan Golf Tour’s Qualifying School.

The 20-year-old Delhi golfer Honey Baisoya’s second position in the Rolex Ranking makes him the highest-ranked player in the field. Baisoya, riding on the success of his twin triumphs in the last two weeks, will be another name to watch out for at the CG Open 2016.