Kochi: Veteran and former Indian Open champion Feroz Ali Mollah of Kolkata heaved a sigh of relief at the CIAL Golf Club on Saturday as he ended his four-year victory drought with a one-shot triumph at the CIAL Cochin Masters presented by PGTI. The 46-year-old shot scores of 70, 68, 73 and 69 to end up with a winning tournament total of eight-under-280 in the opening event of PGTI’s landmark 10th season.
Bengaluru’s M Dharma and Delhi’s Vikrant Chopra were joint runners-up at seven-under-281 at the Rs. 60 lakh event.
Feroz Ali Mollah’s top-notch performance this week saw him turn the clock back to the 90s, a decade when he was one of the dominant figures in Indian professional golf. Feroz, who has over 50 titles in his kitty, once again produced the magic of old in Kochi to add more silverware to his already overflowing trophy cabinet.
It was a day of fluctuating fortunes as the lead kept changing hands between Feroz, overnight leader M Dharma (72-66-71-72) and Vikrant Chopra (72-72-69-68), who was tied fifth after round three.
Feroz himself had a roller-coaster front-nine as he alternated between birdies and bogeys from the second through the seventh. The highlight of his outward nine was the chip for eagle on the sixth that missed the hole by a whisker.
Mollah, who last won a title in late 2011, turned the tide on the back-nine thanks to his much-improved putting and a couple of long range conversions. The man known for his colourful attire on the course came up with four birdies against a lone bogey on his inward nine to close the week with a three-under-69.
“I dedicate this win to my wife and two kids. I was really hungry for a win since a long time. I thought I’ll give my family a gift this year by winning an event since they hadn’t seen me win in ages,” said Feroz.
He added, “I putted better on the back-nine today. I didn’t think too much about the other contenders but played my own game. I’ve switched to a new set of irons and that too helped my cause.
“The competition is getting tougher with each passing year with younger and fitter players arriving on the scene. However, it is my experience that has helped me in competing with the next generation. I play a lot of tournaments round the year, not only in India but also on local tours in South East Asia. I believe in match practice more than practicing at the range. This approach has kept me going. A brilliant start to the new season here would do wonders to my confidence,” said Mollah, who took home the winning cheque worth Rs. 9 lakh to lead the Rolex Ranking.
For M Dharma it was another near miss after his playoff loss in Mumbai late last year. He had a forgettable start to the day having lost his ball on the first and subsequently dropping a double-bogey. The 29-year-old rallied with birdies on the second and fourth but could not convert his opportunities on the back-nine.
Dharma finally had a 15-feet birdie conversion opportunity on the 18th to take the match into a playoff with Feroz. However, the putt circled the hole in dramatic fashion before stopping at the lip to deny him a shot at the title.
Dharma said, “After the initial setback on the first, I knew I’ll be back in the game soon. However, there were lots of opportunities missed in the second half. I thought I had nailed the final putt but was shattered to see it lip out. Nonetheless, these losses have only made me mentally stronger for the future.”
Vikrant Chopra, who was four-under through the first-nine, too was in contention till the very end until he bogeyed the 17th with a three-putt and then missed the green on the 18th to make par.
Noida’s Gaurav Pratap Singh produced the day’s best of 66 to claim a share of fourth place at six-under-282 along with Meerut’s Sudhir Sharma.
The two rookies to make the cut, Mumbai’s Shivam Ashok Tibrewal (seven-over-295) and Delhi-based Gunvir Rana (nine-over-297), posted respectable finishes of tied 34th and tied 40th respectively in their maiden professional event.