Avantha Masters: Himmat Rai best placed Indian at tied 4th after first round

Gurgaon: Himmat Singh Rai carded four-under 68 and was the best placed Indian at tied fourth after Day One of at Avantha Masters being held at DLF Golf & Country Club here on Thursday. Jeev Milkha Singh, Vivek Bhandari and Anirban Lahiri were just a stroke behind at tied 10th position.

Himmat Rai was sharing the fourth spot with Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Thongchai Jaidee, French duo of Jean-Baptiste Gonnet and Gregory Havert along with Jamie Donaldson of Wales, tied at 10th were Scott Jamieson of Scotland, Peter Uihlein of the USA, Oscar Floren of Sweden, Marcel Siem of Germany, Italian Andrea Pavan and Marcus Ftasher of Australia.

Meanwhile, Spain’s Alejandro Canizares and Scotland’s Peter Whiteford set the early pace when they posted matching six-under-par 66s to take a share of the first round lead at the tournament.

Italy’s Federico Colombo is a further shot back in third place after he signed for a 67 while Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Thongchai Jaidee are bunched in fourth place alongside four other players that include India’s Himmat Rai on 68 at the DLF Golf and Country Club.

Canizares, who is playing in India for the first time, hopes to bring home happy memories of his stay at the Avantha Masters which is tri-sanctioned by the Asian Tour, European Tour and PGTI.

After a near-flawless round, the Spaniard could be on his way towards achieving that and ending a six-year title drought at the Avantha Masters, which is richest tournament staged in India, thanks to its US$2.3 million prize fund.

“I played very steady and I putted quite nicely. The only mistake I made was missing a short putt on the seventh so I made a bogey. But overall it was a nice round with not many mistakes,” said Canizares, a one-time European Tour winner.

Whiteford meanwhile had five birdies in his back-nine including four consecutive ones from the 10thhole to thank for surging him to the top of the leaderboard.

The Scot reached the turn in 35 after mixing two birdies against one bogey but hurled himself back into contention with a sparkling homeward run.

“I hit a lot more drivers than people usually do out there and just took advantage of the course and bully it a little. It can bite you easily though if you’re not careful. I had a bad one down the last but apart from that, it was mainly the driving that was better today,” said Whiteford.

Aphibarnrat proved once again that India is a happy hunting ground for him after he took the morning round lead with his 68.

After narrowly missing out on his second Asian Tour win in Myanmar earlier this month, Kiradech is determined to shine again in the country where he savoured the winning feeling for the first time.

With the Avantha Masters enjoying the honour of being the first of the four events scheduled to be played in India this season, the 23-year-old knows that his game can only get better in the subcontinent.

“I think I’ve got the chance to win more tournaments in India. We’ve many tournaments on the Asian Tour in India and I think that by having more playing opportunities here, we get more familiar with the conditions and we can improve,” said Kiradech who earned his career breakthrough at the Sail Open last year.

“I’m playing my best golf and I hope this will continue throughout the season. I made some adjustments to my swing and they are more consistent now,” added the Thai.

Compatriot Thongchai also kept up the Asian challenge by staying close to the leaders even though he was still feeling the effects of a throat infection.

“I hit about 15 greens today and it’s nice to be among the leaders especially after an opening round,” said Thongchai.

“I fell very sick when I was in Qatar and Dubai and I’m only starting to feel a little better this week. I guess it might be the sand storms from the Middle East. I’ve a throat infection but I’ve been taking medication and slowly I’m feeling better,” added the three-time Asian Tour Order of Merit winner.

Leading scores after round 1 of the AVANTHA MASTERS 2012 being played at the par 72, 7156 Yards DLF GCC course (a- denotes amateur):

66 - Alejandro CANIZARES (ESP), Peter WHITEFORD (SCO).
67 - Federico COLOMBO (ITA).
68 - Kiradech APHIBARNRAT (THA), Himmat RAI (IND), Thongchai JAIDEE (THA), Jean-Baptiste GONNET (FRA), Jamie DONALDSON (WAL), Gregory HAVRET (FRA).
69 - Vivek BHANDARI (IND), Scott JAMIESON (SCO), Peter UIHLEIN (USA), Oscar FLOREN (SWE), Marcel SIEM (GER), Andrea PAVAN (ITA), Anirban LAHIRI (IND), Jeev Milkha SINGH (IND), Marcus FRASER (AUS).
70 - Chapchai NIRAT (THA), Paul MCGINLEY (IRL), Rhys DAVIES (WAL), Mithun PERERA (SRI), Shamim KHAN (IND), Joost LUITEN (NED), Berry HENSON (USA), Scott BARR (AUS), Marcus BOTH (AUS), George MURRAY (SCO), Soren HANSEN (DEN), Jbe KRUGER (RSA), Mardan MAMAT (SIN), Ignacio GARRIDO (ESP).

Selected scores
76 - Todd HAMILTON (USA)
79 - John DALY (USA).