Kolkata: On a high scoring opening day at the McLeod Russel Tour Championship 2015, the top honours were shared by Bengaluru’s Chikkarangappa S, local lad Rahil Gangjee, Gurgaon-based Jyoti Randhawa, Australian Kunal Bhasin and Sri Lankan N Thangaraja, all of whom shot scores of four-under-68. The leading quintet was two shots clear of the rest at the Rs. 1.5 crore event on an overcast day at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC).
Chikkarangappa, currently second in the Rolex Ranking, about eight and a half lakh rupees behind leader Mukesh Kumar of Mhow, began his campaign for his first Rolex Player of the Year title on a promising note with an eagle and four birdies against two bogeys.
Chikka produced a massive drive on the 15th followed by an eight feet conversion to help himself to an eagle. He also had two early birdies on 2 and 3 where he rolled in a 12-footer and a mammoth 70-footer respectively. He seemed to be heading for the sole lead with a 15-feet birdie conversion on the 16th but found the trees on the last hole to drop a shot.
“I didn’t drive that well today but was sharp with my short game as I managed to make a number of long putts. My tee shots need to improve if I have to be in contention this week. I’ve won junior and amateur events at RCGC so I quite enjoy playing here. Winning the Rolex Ranking crown is a big motivation since I’ve been finishing second in the merit list for the last two years,” said Chikka.
Kolkata’s Rahil Gangjee too negotiated the tough scoring conditions well with five birdies and a bogey. His round featured four birdie conversions from 10 to 15 feet and a couple of brilliant par-saves.
“The course is quite challenging this year and playing longer due to some of the tees being moved back as well as the rough and the colder weather conditions. I did really well to save par from difficult situations on the 6th and 7th, perhaps two of the toughest holes on the course,” said Gangjee.
Jyoti Randhawa, one of India’s all-time greats, also ended the day on top of the pack thanks to six birdies and two bogeys. He was one-under through 11 before picking up three more shots on the last seven holes.
Randhawa said, “I hit it good today and got my timing back which was lacking for some time. I holed a lot of putts from a range of eight to 10 feet. I feel the front-nine here is tougher than the back-nine which has more potential for birdies. The greens are also not easy to read. But the golf course is in great shape.”
N Thangaraja, also a joint leader on day one, set up three tap-in birdies for himself on the front-nine courtesy some accurate iron-play. He narrowly missed a hole-in-one on the second. However, Thanga also missed half a dozen short putts that stopped him from going lower.
Kunal Bhasin made it a five-way lead at the top as he sank some long putts on the back-nine en route his 68.
The chasing pack of 10 golfers in tied sixth place at two-under-70 included former champions Shankar Das and SSP Chawrasia, both from Kolkata, Rolex Ranking leader Mukesh Kumar and Chandigarh’s Abhijit Singh Chadha, who is currently third in the Rolex Ranking.
Rookie Udayan Mane of Bengaluru, at the moment coasting towards the Emerging Player of the Year title, got off to a solid start with a one-under-71 to be tied 16th.
Three of the pre-tournament favourites Chiragh Kumar (72), Gaganjeet Bhullar (74) and Himmat Singh Rai (80) were placed tied 25th, tied 44th and 68th respectively.