Cabrera-Bello, Mamat’s Wins Add to Avantha Excitement

Gurgaon: The Avantha Masters got a big boost as Rafael Cabrera-Bello of Spain and Mardan Mamat of Singapore, prominent names in the field, won on two different Tours on Sunday. They will be the latest set of champions in a star-studded field that includes Major champions, John Daly and Todd Hamilton, besides a host of European and Asian Tour winners. Besides Daly and Hamilton, two of Asia’s golfing legends Jeev Milkha Singh and Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand will also tee up – the duo between them have won the Asian Tour Order of Merit five times.

Defending champion, SSP Chowrasia and Andrew Dodt, winner of the inaugural Avantha Masters in 2010 are also confirmed.

The Avantha Masters makes a return to the DLF Golf and Country Club this week with a fresh wave of optimism amongst fans and players on the prospect of celebrating another home winner.

Tri-sanctioned by the PGTI, Asian Tour and European Tour, the Avantha Masters holds a significant place on the Asian Tour Schedule as it is the richest tournament in India, thanks to its lucrative €1.8 million (approximately US$2.4 million) prize fund on offer.

It also enjoys the honour of being the first of the four events scheduled to be played in India this season.

While the region’s finest golfers can expect a rich bounty in excess of over US$4 million on offer from these four events, it will be another grand opportunity for India to showcase its rich golfing talent to the world.

India has a strong challenge. Though Jyoti Randhawa is out due to injury and Arjun Atwal is playing in US, Jeev Milkha Singh with the likes of Shiv Kapur, Rahil Gangjee and SSP Chowrasia will be strong contenders. The latest crop of India stars includes Gaganjeet Bhullar, Anirban Lahiri, Himmat Rai, Chiragh Kumar, Ashok Kumar and Rashid Khan.

Jeev talking about Avantha Masters, said, “It's fantastic for Indian golf.  You know, it's the third year in a row now having a European Tour event on a good golf course like the DLF, and it's always a treat to play in front of the home crowds. I get a lot of support from the people there.  So I think it's the best thing to happen for Indian golf, and I'm looking forward to it.”

On the growing popularity of Avantha Masters and golf, he added, “Young kids who want to see the top players come and play, can do that. They have an opportunity to come and watch those guys play, and when they see their standard of play, they know what they need to work on and they can work on that. Indian golf is moving in the right direction. That's the way I would put it.”

Cabrera-Bello beat back a strong field, including World No. 2 Lee Westwood and World No. 3 Rory McIlroy at the Dubai Desert Classic. He will now attempt to better his tied 16th place showing in 2011.

Mamat, one of Asia’s seasoned players, ended a six-year title drought at the ICTSI Philippine Open on Sunday. The 44-year-old Mamat was a start-to-finish winner, and it was his third Asian Tour title. His last win came at the 2006 Osim Singapore Masters, a joint-sanctioned event between European and Asian tours. He finished in the 50s in both 2010 and 2011 Avantha Masters.

India holds the proud record of having produced the most number of Asian Tour Order of Merit champions, through Atwal in 2003, Singh in 2006 and 2008 and Randhawa, the country’s first Asian number one in 2002.

In the past seasoned stars like Gaurav Ghei, Feroz Ali  and C. Muniyappa have also all added their names onto the Asian Tour’s Roll of Honour with their respective victories.

“There is a lot of depth in Indian golf as new players are hitting the Asian Tour,” said Shiv Kapur as he reflected on the growing strength of the game in his country.

Lahiri revelled in his home victory at the Panasonic Open India and Himmat Rai broke through in a big way with his maiden win at the ISPS Handa Singapore Classic. Chiragh Kumar burst onto the scene when he charged into contention at the Hero Indian Open at the halfway stage who are lighting up the scene.

“Playing Asian Tour events in Asia create great playing opportunities for our players and it gives us confidence as well. We’ve got a strong PGTI Tour which is tremendous and we’ve sponsors support as well. There are many new courses being built in India now and over the next few years and this will help the game to grow even further,” said Bhullar who was won twice on the Asian Tour.

Chowrasia’s final day charge for the Avantha Masters title last year rallied the home crowd together as he surmounted a late charge to win his second Asian Tout title. His spell-binding performances where he pipped England’s Robert Coles for his second Asian Tour title, kept the nation together where they all cheered as one for their local hero- one whom they can proudly call their own.

But for one, India’s already the winner for it has provided the country with a wonderful spectacle of golf that everyone is now talking about.