The most oft-repeated story on the Hero Honda Indian Golf Tour was scripted once again by Mukesh Kumar when he shot his second successive four-under 67 to open a four-stroke lead at the halfway stage of the Rs One million Honda Open West, being played at the par-71 Poona Club Golf Course, on Thursday.
The Mhow-based Mukesh, who is looking forward to a 11th record-equalling title victory this season, was at eight-under 134. Kolkata's Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia, who has finished runner-up in this tournament for the last two years, jumped into contention with a four-under 67, which helped him to tied second place at four-under 138 along with Amandeep Johl of Chandigarh. Johl added a one-under 70 to his overnight three-under 68.
Overnight joint leader Vivek Bhandari was completely off colour in the front nine and was six-over by the time he finished eight holes. He finished with a five-over 76 to fall back to tied-14th place at one-over 143. Defending champion Feroz Ali shot a four-over 75 to fall back to tied-12th place. The cut was applied at nine-over 151 and 53 professionals made it to the final two rounds.
On a great day for Pune golfers, Dinesh Raghuvanshi, elder brother of Mukesh Kumar, made a hole-in-one on the par-3 fourth hole. The perfect effort with a 5-iron fetched Raghuvanshi a Hero Honda Passion motorcycle, which is on offer for the first hole-in-one scored in any tournament on the Hero Honda Indian Golf Tour.
Amateur Jaideep Patwardhan shot a superb round of three-under 68 that pushed him to tied fourth place overall at two-under 140. Sachin Nigade was also in the top-ten with a round of level-par 71.
Mukesh is a man who can do no wrong. After a bogey-free round on the opening day, he almost repeated the act but for a freak dropped shot on the 15th hole. He hit a massive drive over the banyan tree to land 50 yards from the green, but hit his chip too strong to go over the green. He missed his chip-putt from there. Otherwise, the No 1 player on the Hero Honda Indian Golf Tour for last three seasons made birdies on the sixth, seventh, ninth, 11th and 14th.
"I hit the ball solid again but my putting was not up to the mark. Apart from the three-footer par putt that I missed on the 15th, I also missed four birdie chances from less than seven feet. The putting surface will become a bit more difficult when they cut the grass tomorrow," said Mukesh.
Chowrasia was modest about his 4-under 67 and gave the credit to his caddie, Ashok. "He is a local boy here and has a brilliant sense of putting line. Thanks to him, I putted much better," said Chowrasia, who made six birdies with none of the putts smaller than 12 feet.
Johl started with a booming drive on the first that fetched him a birdie after a simple 60 yard lob wedge shot, but could only make two birdies and two bogies after that.
"I was okay, but it wasn't as great as yesterday. I didn't get any good break today," said the SAIL-sponsored Johl.
Scores (after 18 holes): 134 _ Mukesh Kumar (67,67); 138 _ SSP Chowrasia (71,67), Amandeep Johl (68,70); 140 _ Jaideep Patwardhan-A (72,68), Pappan (71,69); 141 _ Rafiq Ali (69,72), S Madaiah (69,72); 142 _ Yusuf Ali (72,70); 143 _ Naman Dawar (73,70), Sachin Nigade (72,71), Vivek Bhandari (67,76); 144 _ Digvijay Singh (74,70), Rahil Gangjee (74,70), Sanjay Kumar (72,72), C Muniappa (71,73), Balbir Singh Verma (71,73), Feroz Ali (69,75); 145 _ Zai Kipgen (76,69), Amish Jaitha (75,70), Jumman (73,72), Mohd Islam (72,73).