Two-time Patna Open champion Rafiq Ali fired his third round of seven under in four outings on the Amby Valley PGAI Tour to leap into a four-stroke lead at the mid-way stage of the Rs One million Patna Open 2004, being played at the par-70, Patna Golf Course, on Friday.
Rafiq's second day card of 63 placed his tournament tally at ten-under 130. The golfer won the Patna Open once in 1999 and then again the following year.
The crème of the field surrounded the summit of the leader-board as two Indian Open winners, Feroz Ali (incidentally Rafiq 's elder brother) and defending champion Vijay Kumar, moved into tied-second place at six-under 134.
While overnight leader Sanjay Kumar slipped to tie fifth with Delhi's Vinod Kumar at 135, three-time Amby Valley PGAI Tour Order of Merit winner, Mukesh Kumar was tied-seventh with Kanpur veteran Shiv Prakash at 136.
The cut was applied at seven-over 147 with exactly 50 pros making it to the week-end rounds. Among the big names missing the bus was Delhi's Rohtas Singh, who has over 100 career titles under his belt.
There are no prizes for guessing Rafiq Ali's favourite number. Coincidentally it was seven days ago that the Kolkatan fired a round of seven-under 65 at the par-72 Digboi Club Golf Links and followed it up with an identical effort the following day. This helped him finish tied-second in that event. This week, after an opening round 67 at the Patna Open 2004 and today's effort of 63, Rafiq aggregates a phenomenal 24 under in four rounds of golf. He will ensure he doesn't let go of this advantage and gun for his third Patna Open title.
Today, Rafiq, a tenth tee starter, set the course on fire with a string of birdies highlighting what was an error free card. After birdying his opening hole, he went on to birdie the 13th, 15th, first, third, seventh and ninth on route to his 63.
"I could have finished far better but for two really bad misses," said the Royal Calcutta Golf Club pro. "I missed two feet birdie putts on the 17th and eighth, which was ridiculous," said the golfer, who would, had he sunk those putts have bettered his career best round of eight under, shot at Gurgaon and Kolkata.
Indian Airlines-sponsored Feroz Ali came in with a big smile today. While part of it was due to his younger brother's fine effort, the smile was essentially due to Feroz's delight at the near perfect golf he is playing.
"Everything in my game is so perfect that I am dead certain that I will win this tournament," said the 37-year-old. Feroz, a tenth tee starter like his brother, birdied the tenth and12th before dropping his first and only shot of the day on the 14th. Thereafter, Feroz birdied the 18th, fourth and seventh for a card of four-under 66. Feroz, who last tasted victory on the Amby Valley PGAI Tour at the Cotton City Open in Coimbatore in August 2003, is keen as ever to stand atop the podium on Sunday.
Vijay Kumar, too, like Feroz, has not won for a while on the Amby Valley PGAI Tour. He was not too happy with his short game today.
"My putting has caused me a lot of concern over the past few weeks and today was no exception. Winning on this course calls for good driving and excellent putting skills. While the former is there the latter needs improvement," said the Lucknow pro, who hopes to rediscover his feel on the greens tomorrow.
Vijay started his round with a bogey on the tenth. The early wake up call had a positive effect as the 36-year-old went on to birdie the 13th, 16th, fifth, sixth and eighth for a card of four under 66.
Roshan Sharan continues in amateur lead: Roshan Sharan, captain - Patna Golf Course, shot a 78 to continue in the amateur lead at nine-over 149.
SCORES (after 36 holes): 130 Rafiq Ali(67,63); 134 Vijay Kumar(68,66), Feroz Ali(68,66); 135 Sanjay Kumar(65,70), Vinod Kumar(70,65); 136 Mukesh Kumar(67,69), Shiv Prakash(67,69); 137 Ranjit Singh(66,71), Roop Singh(71,66); 138 Basad Ali(70,68).