Panasonic Open: Mukesh two ahead after penultimate round, chases maiden Asian Tour win

Mukesh Kumar Round 1 leader PGTI Players ChampionshipNew Delhi: Indian golfing giant Mukesh Kumar has an unending list of achievements on the Indian domestic circuit which includes over 120 titles. However, an international victory has eluded the man from Mhow so far.

The 51-year-old seasoned campaigner now has all to play for in the final round of the Panasonic Open India at the Delhi Golf Club (DGC) as he leads the tournament by two strokes at eight-under-136 after the penultimate round. Mukesh followed up his opening round 67 with a clinical three-under-69 in round two to lay the foundation for the pursuit of his maiden Asian Tour triumph on Sunday. 

There will be a bunch of Indians in contention come Sunday. Khalin Joshi and Shankar Das shot scores of 71 and 67 respectively to close round two in joint second place at six-under-138 along with Sri Lankan Mithun Perera, another PGTI member, and Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond.

Indians Shubhankar Sharma, Rashid Khan, Chiragh Kumar, Jyoti Randhawa and Deepinder Singh Kullar were all tied for sixth place at five-under-139, three shots behind the leader.

Mukesh Kumar (67-69), the joint first round leader, mixed five birdies with two bogeys on Saturday to claim the sole second round lead. Birdies on the first three holes set him up for the day. While his back-nine wasn’t as impressive courtesy two bogeys, he managed to maintain a two-shot cushion as a result of a 12-feet birdie conversion on the 17th.

Mukesh is now in a position to realize his dream of winning his first international title. He is also in line to become the oldest first time winner on the Asian Tour.

Summing up his second round effort, the veteran said, “I was just focusing on my game today and not thinking too much about the scores. My putting did the job for me as the percentage of the left to right putt conversion was higher than the first round. However, I’d look to further improve on that. The first three birdies raised my confidence a great deal.

“Course management is important here at the DGC and I’ll stick to the same clubs that I’ve played in the first two rounds. I hardly use the driver and the 3-wood here and I’ll follow the same approach in round three. However, I will look to be a little more aggressive than the first two rounds as the field is very strong and there are a lot of good players chasing me. I’ll use all my experience of playing at the DGC for so many years.

“I’ll also have to mix it well by taking some advice from my caddie and also following my own instinct. I made a mistake today by not listening to him on the 16th where I used a longer club and landed in the bunker which in turn resulted in a bogey.

“By winning this week I want to prove to myself rather than anyone else, that I’m good enough to win at the international level even in the twilight of my career.”

Shankar Das (71-67), a six-time winner on the PGTI, hit it with pin-point precision to post a brilliant 67 and take a massive leap from tied 19th in round one to tied second.

Shankar said, “I had a fantastic front-nine after a slow start on the back-nine. I struck it so well on the front-nine that it landed within a foot on three occasions to set up two birdies and one eagle on the eighth. The eagle on the eighth helped me close the day on a high as it placed me within two of the lead with a realistic shot at the title.

“I haven’t missed too many putts so far this week with the one exception being the three-putt on the second today. The highlight of my second round was the near miss for hole-in-one on the fifth. It’ll be a good contest in the final round with lot of Indians in with a chance. My focus area will be my putting.

“I think luck also plays a big part at the DGC. You need a lucky break once in a while when you don’t find the fairway but the ball still lands in a safe place. I’ll need that kind of luck going into the final round.”

Khalin Joshi (67-71) slipped one position from his tied first place in round one after a score of 71 that featured an eagle, four birdies, three bogeys and a double-bogey. He’s looking for a top finish at DGC in order to seal his card for the 2017 Asian Tour season.

Khalin said, “I played good so far. The last 18 holes weren’t as good. I didn’t hit the ball well. I have been hitting it left but I actually putted better than I did in the first round. I was just trying to finish with a decent number.

“I’m going to the range later to get some practice and get my swing back to how I hit the ball in the first round. The key is to hit fairways here. I will be looking to do that in the final round tomorrow. If I keep doing that, I should have a good chance.”

Round one joint leaders Jyoti Randhawa and Rashid Khan, both returned second round scores of 72 to drop to tied sixth. The duo will be strong contenders on the final day along with defending champion Chiragh Kumar and Shubhankar Sharma both of whom fired scores of 68 in round two to rise from tied 19th to tied sixth.

Deepinder Singh Kullar posted a sublime 66 in round two to fight his way up from tied 43rd to tied sixth.

Shamim Khan, another round one joint leader, came up with a 74 in round two to slip to tied 16th at three-under-141. Arjun Atwal was also in tied 16th with scores of 69 and 72.

The cut fell at four-over-148. Seventy-three players made the cut including Indian star Jeev Milkha Singh (75-73) who was tied 64th at four-over-148. Forty-two Indians made the cut.