South African Keith Horne equalled the course record with a stunning 9-under par 63 to emerge the sole leader after the first round at the Rs. 13.80 million Royal Challenge Indian Open golf tournament on Thursday.
The 32-year old Horne opened the day with two birdies and finished with another couple as the Asian Tour event got off to an exciting start at the Delhi Golf Club.
Thailand's Thaworn Wiratchant was three strokes behind the leader while Indians Mukesh Kumar and Shamim Khan, and American Clay Devers were placed third with a card of 5-under 67.
Amritinder Singh was among a group of six who turned in 68 while Rafiq Ali and seven others had closed at 69.
Vijay Kumar, the 2002 champion, was eight strokes behind the leader at 71 as was the defending champion, American Mike Cunning. But the most disappointing performance for the home fans came from the promising Digvijay Singh, who finished the day at one-over 73.
Greg Hanrahan of the US, who came second at last week's Caltex Masters in Singapore, had a mixed day for a 2-under 70.
"It is a difficult course, one couldn't relax for a moment," said Horne, who put up a flawless performance that included eight birdies in all.
"Even when you used a defensive iron, you have to be aggressive (on this course). You have to accept a few bad holes. I did not have one today, but may do tomorrrow or the day after," said Horne, who is visiting the Delhi Golf Club for the second time.
Incidentally, the South African has a 9-under to his credit at the famous Dunhill event.
Mukesh has been one of the most consistent Indians on the circuit. A morning tee off seemed to bring out the best in him. He had his first birdie on the fourth hole and on the return, he birdied thrice on the 12th, 13th and 14th holes, before rounding it off with another on the 18th.
Hanrahan, sixth on the Asian Tour Order of Merit, hoped he too had a morning start. The American began well with a birdie on the par-4 second and third. He had a strong driver and could have had at least another two birdies but the greens seemed to pose problems as he missed putts on the 13th and 18th.
"The grass seemed to bend a little and so the ball rolls over a bit fast," Hanrahan said.
"A morning start would be better, when I hope they had mowed the greens," he said.
Hanrahan's group mate Digvijay too said he had problems with putting. "I couldn't judge the speed of the greens, either I hit it too short or too hard," the 32-year old said.
But Digvijay's driving was awful too. On the par-4 sixth, he went into the bushes for a double bogey. He recovered a bit with a birdie on the eighth and he showed his class on the difficult 12th when he played a fantastic drop shot for another birdie.
Just when it seemed he had saved par for the day, a wild tee on the par-5 18th resulted in a bogey for an unhappy ending.
Important results (Indian unless specified):
1. Keith Horne (Rsa) 9-under 63, 2. Thaworn Wirathchant (Tha) 66, 3. Mukesh Kumar, Clay Devers (USA), Shamim Khan 67, 6. Yeh Chang-Ting (Tpe), Mardan Mamat (Sin) Mo Joon-Kyung (Kor), Amritinder Singh, Gary Rusnak (Usa), Bryuan Saltus (USA) 68, 12. Rafiq Ali (Ind), stephen Lindskok (Swe), Ross Bain (Sco) Scott Taylor (USA), Hendrik Buhrmann (Rsa), Pablo Del Olmo (Mex), Craing Kamps (Rsa), David Gleeson (Aus) 69, 20. Gaurav Ghei, S S P Chaurasia, Eiji Mizoguchi (Jpn) Rick Gibson (Can) Jason Dawes (Aus), Chris Williams (Rsa), Dann y Chia (Mas), Greg Hanrahan (USA), Roop Singh, Suleman Ali, Ajay Gupta, Yousuf Ali, Sanjay Kumar, Kim Felton (Aus), Lam Ching Bing (Sin), Edward Loar (USA), Uttam Singh Mundy 71.