Avantha Masters: SSP Chowrasia ready to defend title

Gurgaon: Defending Avantha Masters champion SSP Chowrasia, the only Indian to have won two European Tour titles in the last four years, is ready to add to that total and join Jeev Milkha Singh and Arjun Atwal as the only Indians to have won three titles on European Tour, when the Avantha Masters tees up on Thursday. The field for the €1.8 million event also includes Major Champions Todd Hamilton and John Daly, as well as former world number one amateur Peter Uihlein.

Chowrasia, who is beginning to show the form that won him the Avantha Masters title last year, is confident of a good showing at the DLF Golf and Country Club. After missing a lot of club last year, he had decent showings in South Africa, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

Chowrasia, 33,  triumphed by one shot from England’s Robert Coles last year to claim his second European Tour title following his victory in the Indian Masters in 2008, when he became the first player to win on his debut appearance as an Affiliate Member.

The first win came at Delhi Golf Club and last season it was at DLF Golf and Country Club. “I’ve been practising hard and I’m feeling really good,” said Chowrasia. “I’ve done a bit of work on my swing over the off-season and it’s paying off. I’m feeling very confident about my game.

“Last year was amazing to win in front of the home fans and great for Indian golf and Indian players. I was so happy. Golf in India is growing – cricket is number one but golf is the next fastest growing sport – and I hope my victory inspires more people to play.

“I have great memories of the DLF Golf Club from last year so I am very much looking forward to going back. To win again and make it three times in Delhi would be unbelievable.”

India is well represented, as the tournament is tri-sanctioned between The European Tour, the Asian Tour and the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI), and the crowds will have the opportunity to watch Jeev Milkha Singh, arguably the pioneer of Indian golf.

The 40-year-old was the first Indian to qualify for The European Tour and has won three titles, the last of which was in 2008. He has also won the Asian Tour Order of Merit twice, in 2006 and 2008.

“I have been suffering from a touch of cold, and was carrying this last week in Dubai also. But I am hoping to be fine by Thursday,” said Jeev.  “It’s the third year in a row we have had a European Tour event inIndia, which is fantastic. The DLF is a great golf course, and of course it’s always a treat to play in front of your home crowds. I get a lot of support from the people there. I’m really looking forward to it.

“The course is an Arnold Palmer design.  It’s tree-lined and management is very important on that golf course.  The wind picks up this time of the year and the greens are quite grainy, so you've got to make sure you hit it in the right level.”

The field includes Mardan Mamat, one of Asia’s seasoned players, who ended a six-year title drought at the ICTSI Philippine Open on Sunday. The 44-year-old Mamat was a wire-to-wire 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.

Another Asian golf legend Thongchai has 13 Asian Tour titles, a record that has been against his name since late 2010. After having recovered from an injury-filled 2011 he is hoping to take the record further.

Overall it is one of the strongest fields to have assembled in India in recent years. There will be as many as 37 separate European Tour winners with 67 tournament titles between them, competing this week. Richard Sterne contributes the most to this tally having won an impressive five times since 2004 when he picked up his first at the Open de Madrid. The most recent victor in the field is Dutchman Joost Luiten, who won his first title at the Iskandar Johor Open.

Both the winners on Asian Tour in 2012, Kieran Pratt (Myanmar Open) and Mamat (Philippine Open) will also be present.

From India’s standpoint, the only name missing will be Jyoti Randhawa, who is injured, but the likes of Shiv Kapur, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Anirban Lahiri, Himmat Rai, Rahil Gangjee, Chiragh Kumar among others will once again make it a very strong Indian presence in the field.

Indians have been very strong on home turf, having three of the five international titles last year, besides finishing second in one and third in another.

The Euros 1.8 million Avantha Masters is currently the richest tournament in India and has been held at the DLF Golf and Country Club for the last three years.