By: Pramod Thomas
TWO-TIME champion SSP Chawrasia will look to rekindle his love affair with the Hero Indian Open as he and Shubhankar Sharma eye glory at the country’s flagship golf event began at the DLF Golf and Country Club in Gurugram on Thursday (23).
With a prize money of $2 million ( £1.7m), the PGTI & DP World Tour Joint-Sanctioned event, will see the presence of a strong Indian contingent, led by the seasoned Chawrasia, who had finished second best four times in the tournament in the past.
While Chawrasia will draw on his good memories to earn another shot at glory and regain his card at the European Tour, rebranded DP World Tour, Sharma is eyeing his third European Tour crown following his titles in 2017 Joburg Open and 2018 Maybank Championship.
Besides the duo, in-form rookie Manu Gandas will look to exploit the advantage of playing on his home course as the country’s golfers aim to reclaim the title for the first time since 2017.
After finishing runner-up on four occasions in 1999, 2006, 2013 and 2015, Chawrasia had claimed back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017 and remains the last Indian to win the tournament.
“I like to hit it straight and if I can get on the green with 10 feet or less to putt, I always back myself,” said Chawrasia, who got a sponsor invite for the event.
“My game is getting better with each day and I hope to play better here. Course conditions here are very nice. Greens are very fast. I feel scoring will not go high this year. Overall, it will be tough.
“But I feel it is my best chance to win again. I have won here before. And the players who are competing here, I have played a lot against them. So there is a comfort level,” said the Indian, who finished tied 30th at the International Series in Oman earlier this month.
Sharma is coming into the tournament following a tied seventh finish at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship — the first strokeplay event of the year on the DP World Tour.
The 26-year-old had four top-10 finishes on the European circuit in 2021, including a tied third finish in Open de Espana and had a runner-up finish in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in 2022 and looks in good touch.
While former champion Anirban Lahiri, who joined LIV GOLF, will be missing in action, some of prominent Indian names in the field include Gaganjeet Bhullar, Shiv Kapur, Rashid Khan, Ajeetesh Sandhu, Khalin Joshi, Jyoti Randhawa, Udayan Mane, Chikkarangappa, Yuvraj Singh Sandhu and 2023 PGTI Rankings leader Sachin Baisoya.
The tournament, which is returning after a Covid-induced break of three years, also boasts of a strong international field, featuring defending champion Stephen Gallacher and Robert MacIntyre from Scotland and Dane Nicolai Højgaard.
2018 Ryder Cup-winning captain Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn and fellow Ryder Cup team-mate Thorbjorn Olesen are also in the fray.
Gandas, who bagged record six titles during the 2022 PGTI season to earn full DP World Tour card after winning last year’s Order of Merit, will be eyeing a breakthrough in his maiden season.
“It is another week so in one sense it will not be very different, nothing changes from that point of view,” said the 26-year-old, who will be appearing at the Indian Open for the second time.
“As you know this is my home course and I play on it a lot so that will definitely give me an advantage. But at the end of the day you have to play your own game and take it day by day even if it is a familiar territory.”
Among international players, all eyes will be on British Masters winner Olesen as he is coming into the event on the back of his seventh European tour title in Thailand last week.
Europe’s rising star, Højgaard, a two-time winner on the DP World Tour, also sounded early warning as he won the Hero Shootout on Tuesday (21).
The tournament also offers 2,750 ‘Race to Dubai’ ranking points and 2,000 Ryder Cup points. Also the top-10 players from the DP World Tour will get a card to the PGA Tour.