Rahul Ganapathy and Ashok Kumar, two of the most talented young Turks on the Amby Valley PGAI Tour, displaced three experienced stalwarts from the helm to tie for the lead going into the final round of the Rs 10 lakh Hero Honda Open South, being played at the par-70, Bangalore Golf Club course.
While Ashok reeled off a late round birdie blitz for a four-under 66, Ganapathy shot a 68. The leaders aggregated six-under 204.
Following the leaders was a generous blend of youth and experience.
While Patna's Mohd. Islam sat third one stroke behind at five-under 205, the fourth position was occupied by the likes of overnight leader Pappan (Delhi), Digvijay Singh (Meerut), Rafiq Ali (Kolkata) and yet another supremely talented youngster, the Chandigarh-based rookie Harinder Gupta.
Meanwhile, local lad C Muniyappa fired the day's best card of six-under 64 to climb to tied-ninth position at two-under 208.
It has been three long years since Rahul Ganapathy walked out as part of the leader-group. The last time that opportunity presented itself was at the Hero Honda Open West 2001. Then, Ganapathy was still raw and into only his second season. Friday promises to tell a whole new story.
The Ganapathy of today has a new outlook to golf which involves totally blanking out any thought of victory or loss from his mind. "This helps me play pressure free golf and take things one stroke at a time," he added.
Today, Rahul Ganapathy began well enough with a par-birdie combination. On the left to right dog-leg par-4 second, a driver sand wedge combination was followed by a gleefully accepted morale boosting seven feet putt. Golf they say is a fickle friend and Ganapathy discovered this not for the first time when he dropped shots on the third and fourth. On the fourth, the golfer broke his 3-iron while trying to extract the ball from the rough where his driver placed him.
"This unsettled me a bit," said Ganapathy, who promptly composed himself with his new-found golfing outlook. Thereafter there was no looking back.
Ganapathy reeled off a series of pars interspersed by birdies on the eighth, 13th, 17th and 18th. His only other error of the day came in the form of a bogey on the 16th.
"The 16th is literally my bogey hole. I have scores of bogey, double bogey and bogey in three days here," smiled Ganapathy.
"As for tomorrow, trying to win won't help. A win will come when it has to," he philosophized.
Ashok Kumar is a serious threat to anybody. Truth is the 23-year old will start off as favourite tomorrow. Ashok, who recorded his first win of the season only last week at the Hindu Open in Chennai looked determined enough as he surged into the lead with a round of 66. Tomorrow, the second ranked golfer on the Merit List believes attack will be the best form of defense.
Ashok's front-nine was simple and error-free, comprising as it did of just a birdie on the fourth. On his back nine, Ashok dropped a shot on his very first hole, but then the fighter in him resurfaced presenting him with four straight birdies from the 14th to the 17th.
Muniyappa's round of 64 which commenced on the tenth tee, included birdies on the tenth, 12th, 13th, 17th, first, fourth and seventh, with a lone bogey on the fifth leading to his equaling his best ever individual round of also a 64 achieved at the Madras Gymkhana Golf Annexe in 2001.
Srinivas assumes 16 stroke lead: Anand Srinivas returned a card of five-over 75 and at 223, leapt into a 16-stroke lead over Pradeep Krishna in the amateur category.
Scores (after 54 holes): 204 Ashok Kumar(72,66,66), Rahul Ganapathy(65,71,68); 205 Mohd. Islam(70,65,70); 206 Harinder Gupta(70,67,69), Digvijay Singh(70,66,70), Rafick Ali(68,67,71), Pappan(64,70,72); 207 Ranjit Singh(67,72,68); 208 C Muniyappa(71,73,64), Basad Ali(68,71,69), Gaurav Diwan(67,72,69), Amit Dube(69,69,70).
Amateurs: 223 Anand Srinivas(74,74,75); 239 Pradeep Krishna(81,79,79).