Thrice Amby Valley PGAI Tour Order of Merit winner Mukesh Kumar, in a bid to avenge his 1999 Patna Open play-off loss to Rafiq Ali, fired a superb five-under 65 to nudge to within striking distance of his rival after the penultimate round of the Rs One million Patna Open 2004, being played at the par-70, Patna Golf Course, on Saturday.
Rafiq, who shot a one-under 69, continues to lead the field at 11-under 199, with Mukesh placed second at 201.
The third position was taken by the two Indian Open winners Kolkata's Feroz Ali and Lucknow's Vijay Kumar, who tally eight-under 202 for the event.
Kanpur veteran Shiv Prakash was placed fifth at seven-under 203.
Sport has a strange way of patronizing certain sportsmen at certain venues or occasions. Much like Sunil Gavaskar tasted success each time he set foot at Port-of-Spain or Mohd. Azharuddin enjoyed a love affair with the Eden Gardens, the Patna Golf Club belongs, in manner of speaking, to Rafiq Ali.
The Kolkatan has in three Amby Valley PGAI Tour appearances at the venue pocketed two title wins ('99 & 2000) and one runner-up finish the last time an Amby Valley PGAI Tour event was played here in 2001.
Today, it was an understandably confident looking Rafiq who teed it up on the first tee box. However, luck was not on his side as the cherubic golfer missed a two-and-a-half feet birdie putt and followed it up with a similar miss on the next hole. To make matters worse Rafiq missed another two feet putt to bogey the third and his par chip lipped out for another bogey on the fourth.
"It was a bad start and Vijay caught up with me on the fourth," said the golfer who managed to birdie the seventh but so did Vijay.
"Thereafter I decided to play it safe," said Rafiq, who went into his back-nine tied with the Lucknow golfer. The recovery began with birdies on the tenth, 12th and 13th which placed him three strokes ahead. With Vijay bogeying the 14th, that lead was extended to four. Then Rafiq three-putted on the 16th, which Vijay pared to reduce the lead by one.
"I am lucky to continue in the lead. Tomorrow the putts will have to drop and then nobody can stop me from winning," said Rafiq.
Sharan poised to win amateur title: Roshan Sharan, captain - Patna Golf Course, returned a four-over 74 and at 13 over 223 for the event and enjoys a vast lead over the rest of the field.
SCORES (after 54 holes): 199 Rafiq Ali(67,63,69); 201 Mukesh Kumar(67,69,65); 202 Feroz Ali(68,66,68), Vijay Kumar(68,66,68); 203 Shiv Prakash(67,69,67); 204 Sanjay Kumar(65,70,69); 205 Ranjit Singh(66,71,68); 207 Rahul Ganapathy(70,70,67); 208 Basad Ali(70,68,70); 210 Randhir Ghotra(77,68,65), Nabin Mondal(71,71,68), Gursimran Sethi(70,71,69), Akbar Ali(69,70,71), Raju Ali(69,70,71).