Rookie Ashok Kumar fired two eagles and soared to the top of the leaderboard with +12 points on the opening day of the Rs one million DHL Challenge, which began at the Bombay Presidency Golf Club, on Tuesday.
In the most unique event on the Hero Honda Indian Golf Tour, the 21-year-old opened up a two-point lead over Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia of Kolkata.
Defending champion Mukesh Kumar was involved in a three-way tie for the third place at +7 along with his Mhow compatriot Devendra Patel and Sanjay Kumar of Lucknow.
Ranjit Singh (Chandigarh) and Monish Bindra (Delhi) were tied for the fifth place at +6. Lalit Goenka led the amateur field at -2, five points ahead of Neil Mundra.
The DHL Challenge is being played on the modified stableford format, the first time such a format has been employed on the Indian Tour. A par is worth 0 points, a birdie +2, an eagle +5 and an albatross +8. On the other hand, a bogey is worth -1 point, double bogey -2, a triple bogey -3 and so on.
Ashok, who has made an explosive entry into professional golf and is currently ranked fourth on the Money List, started with an eagle on the par-5 first. He drilled his driver and was left with a nine-iron approach shot to the green. He made the 12-footer putt and was rewarded with +5 points. He then birdied the third, fourth and sixth to go to +11.
Ashok, who is attached to the DLF Golf & Country Club, made four bogies between the seventh and 11th. On the par-5 16th, the Noida Open winner hit his 1-iron twice and made a fabulous 15-feet putt for his second eagle.
Given the modified stableford scoring, where eagles and birdies carry a premium, he zoomed ahead. Even a double bogey on the par-3 17th, where he hit his 4-iron tee shot out of bounds, could not stop him and a birdie on the par-5 18th saw him finish at +12.
"Earlier, I always wanted to make birdies on this BPGC layout and was attacking too much. Today, I applied my mind and my only focus was to get pars. The greens are extremely fast here and every time I reached the green in regulation, I wanted to make a two-putt and settle for par. I putted well today and some of them dropped in the first attempt. It is great to be on top of the leaderboard as I am really enjoying this format," said Ashok after the round.
Chowrasia would have had a better strokplay round of four-under compared to Ashok's two-under, but was done in by the leader's two eagles. The 24-year-old Chowrasia, who was playing with a pulled neck muscle, started with an eagle and made three birdies and a solitary bogey for a +10.
"I could have scored better but hit a few bad shots whenever the neck started hurting while swinging. When that happened, I invariably hit the ball left of the intended target," said the Kolkata based pro.
Defending champion Mukesh made two bogies from the bunker and one from a three-putt. But five birdies, including a hat-trick from the 11th onwards, propelled him to a +7 start. "I am not too happy with my bunker play, but apart from that, I played well. I am happy with the start and considering that Ashok is just an eagle away from me, everything is definitely not lost," said the No 1 player in India.
LEADING SCORES (after 18 holes): 12 _ Ashok Kumar; 10 _ Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia; 7 _ Mukesh Kumar, Sanjay Kumar, Devendra Patel; 6 _ Feroz Ali, Monish Bindra, Ranjit Singh, Yusuf Ali; 5 _ Gaurav Ghei, Shamim Khan, Jumman; 4 _ KPS Sekhon, Bhoop Singh, Vishal Singh; Amateurs: -2 _ Lalit Goenka.