Despite the on-course temperature reaching 45 degrees, the battle-hardened professionals on the Hero Honda Indian Golf Tour, led by the No 1 Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia, proved their ability to take on the odds with excellent scores on the opening day of the Rs 2.8 million (28 lakh) PGAI-TSM Open, which started at the par-72 Noida Golf Club, on Tuesday.
Chowrasia, currently leading the Money List and looking forward to ending the season as the undisputed No 1 golfer in the country with a win this week, shot a brilliant six-under 66 inclusive of an eagle-birdie finish. That gave him a one-shot cushion against a group of three players at five-under 67 - Digvijay Singh, Uttam Singh Mundy and Gurbaaz Mann.
Digvijay is No 2 on the Money List and Chowrasia's closest pursuer, while Mann is in the hunt for the Rookie of the Year award.
Indrajit Bhalotia and Suleiman Ali, looking to save their cards for the next season, local hero Amit Dube, and Shamim Khan were tied for the fifth place at four-under 68, while Mukesh Kumar, Harmeet Kahlon, Akbar Ali, and Rafiq Ali were tied for ninth place at three-under 69.
As many as 40 players returned cards of level-par or lower despite the searing heat.
Chowrasia, who has won three events this season, unleashed some mighty drives with his new Cleveland Launcher 460 driver and set himself several birdie putts.
"I played very well today. The way this course is set up, it favours my kind of game. I drove the ball very well with my new driver, and once you do that, a lot of bite is taken off the course," said the L'Oro Golf-sponsored Chowrasia.
Unlike rest of the field, which made merry on the easier front nine, Chowrasia did most of his scoring on the back nine, coming in with just 31 strokes.
That included an eagle on the par-5 17th, where he putted in from the fringe after reaching there in two, and a birdie on the 18th, where he drained a 12-footer putt. His only bogey was on the seventh, where he three-putted from the fringe.
Digvijay, who started from the 10th tee, was one-over at the turn with bogeys on the 13th and 18th. But a birdie on the first changed the complexion of his game and he picked up strokes on second, fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth to finish at five-under 67.
Mundy started with five birdies in-a-row and was seven-under after adding two more on the seventh and eight. But a double bogey on the 17th undid all the good work and he finished the day at five-under 67. The Chandigarh-based Gurbaaz started from the 10th and was even-par at the turn. But the long-hitting Chandigarh pro scorched the back nine and finished on 67.
Harinder Gupta, playing his first event as a professional, started by dunking his tee shot in the water on the par-3 10th for a double bogey, and was four-over at the turn. But he got his act together on the back nine and the winner of the Hero Gold Chandigarh Open closed with a 32 for a level-par 72 start.
Scores (after 18 holes): 66 _ Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia; 67 _ Digvijay Singh, Uttam Singh Mundy, Gurbaaz Mann; 68 _ Indrajit Bhalotia, Amit Dube, Shamim Khan, Suleiman Ali; 69 _ Mukesh Kumar, Rafiq Ali, Akbar Ali, Harmeet Kahlon; 70 _ Toran Shahi, Feroz Ali, Dinesh Raghuvanshi, Arjun Singh, Raj Kumar, Ashok Kumar; 71 _ Ali Sher, Mohd Maqbool, Rajesh Rawat, Rohit Chaudhari, Sachin Nigade, Basad Ali; 72 _ Harinder Gupta, Mohd Salim, Asgar Ali, Gaurav Ghei, Jumman, Gast Ram, Vinod Kumar, Vijay Kumar, Shiv Prakash, Vinod Kumar (L), Ranjit Singh, Zai Kipgen, Nabin Mondal, Naman Dawar, Sheeraz Kalra.