India's Gaurav Ghei lived up to the adage 'beware the injured golfer' when he battled to a share of the first round lead in the Hero Honda Indian Open on Thursday.
Ghei, a three-time winner on the Asian Tour, overcame a neck injury and, strangely, a police fine to shoot a blemish-free six-under-par 66 at the Delhi Golf Club and lead with five others -- compatriot Gurbaaz Mann, Korean rookie Hur In-hoi, Australian David Gleeson, Thailand's Chapchai Nirat and Malaysia's Danny Chia.
In-form Chinese Taipei veteran Lu Wen-teh, the only multiple winner so far this season, and S S P Chowrasia of India, last year's joint runner-up, were amongst those lying two back in the US$500,000 event.
Title holder Jyoti Randhawa began his defence with a 70 while last year's UBS Order of Merit champion Jeev Milkha Singh of India, playing on home soil for the first time since 2003, battled to a 72 with two bogeys over his last three holes spoiling his return.
Ghei has been bothered by a niggling neck injury but plans for treatment prior to his round were unexpectedly disrupted by a police fine this morning. But after rushing through his warm-up, he managed to sink one eagle and four birdies for a flying start.
"I am actually delighted to just be coming out and playing. The way it started this morning, it wasn't very good. I got up and my neck was stiff again and I thought I could come in and get some treatment," said Ghei, who picked up the injury at the Mercuries Taiwan Masters last month.
"But before I knew it, I was getting fined for not having a pollution certificate in my car at 6.30 this morning! This set me back by 20 minutes and I just ran into the club and went to the range to hit a few balls. I wasn't feeling great when I got to the tee."
The Indian stalwart, starting from the 10th, birdied the 12th and 14th holes to turn in 34 before nailing an eagle on the first hole after he rifled a three iron approach to 12 feet from the flag. He finished his round in style with birdies over his closing two holes.
"I came up to the first tee feeling a bit mad at myself. I hit a good drive on 18 and had a four iron to the green and didn't make birdie. I let off a little steam with the tee shot on the first hole and then hit a three iron to 12 feet and canned that putt. That was pretty satisfying," said Ghei.
Chapchai, nicknamed "King Kong" by his peers for his big-hitting game, kept his driver and three wood in his hotel room upon the advice from 2005 champion Thaworn Wiratchant and he expertly negotiated his way around the challenging and tree-lined Delhi course with six birdies.
"I hit good tee shots and didn't miss a single fairway. I only have a five wood in the bag and I teed off mostly with a two or three iron and it worked nicely," said Chapchai, the highest ranked player in the field at fifth place on the UBS Order of Merit.
"When Thaworn won here two years ago, he didn't use a driver so hopefully I can do the same. I hit a lot of good irons close and holed putts from inside 10 feet for all my birdies," added the 24-year-old.
Malaysia's Chia enjoyed a welcome return to form as he attempts to halt a slump which has seen him plummet to 102nd on the UBS Order of Merit. Like Chapchai, Chia didn't use his driver and shot matching halves of 33s with six birdies.
"I have played on this course for so many years now and this week, I told myself to not hold any club which I wasn't feeling comfortable with. That was why I was hitting a lot of two irons off the tee and only a couple of three woods to put the ball in play," said Chia.
"It's tempting to hit a big tee shot here as the course is quite short. But hitting driver is a big gamble. Even when I missed my two irons, the ball was still in play. I've just learned from my past experience here," added Chia, winner of the opening event on the ASEAN Tour in Indonesia last month.
He needs to earn at least US$50,000 to haul himself into the top-60, which is the cut-off mark to qualify for the season-ending Volvo Masters of Asia in Bangkok and more importantly, retain his full playing rights for 2008.
"I don't even look at the rankings any more. I just want to play decent golf. The last thing I need to think about is how much money I need to make or how much I'm behind. I'm just going out to play golf and see what comes my way. Hopefully, this will be the turning point."
This week's Hero Honda Indian Open is only Hur's fourth appearance of the season but the 20-year-old Korean rookie is relishing the opportunity, shooting nine birdies against three dropped shots.
But unlike the other leaders, Hur, who has posted two top-10s this year, hammered his driver on every hole except for the par threes. "I'm going to stick with the driver this week," he said.
Randhawa, chasing a record-tying third victory in the Hero Honda Indian Open, began his campaign tentatively as he sank three birdies against a bogey. "I didn't give myself too many opportunities but I felt like I left a few shots out on the course," said Randhawa. "After spending most of the year in Europe this year, I am taking sometime to adjust to the greens here," he said.
Leading first round scores
66 - Gaurav Ghei (IND), Gurbaaz Mann (IND), Hur In-hoi (KOR), Chapchai Nirat (THA), David Gleeson (AUS), Danny Chia (MAS).
68 - Jasjeet Singh [A] (IND), Lu Wen-Teh (TPE), S.S.P. Chowrasia (IND), Shamim Khan (IND), Ashok Kumar (IND), Martin Rominger (SUI), Chang Tse-peng (TPE) 69 - Mohd Islam (IND), Rahul Ganapathy (IND), Muhammed Munir (PAK), Zaw Moe (MYN), Chiragh Kumar (IND), Olle Nordberg (SWE), Ross Bain (SCO), Bryan Saltus (USA), 70 - Rahul Bakshi [A] (IND), Yusuf Ali (IND), Mardan Mamat (SIN), Chinarat Phadungsil (THA), Mars Pucay (PHI), Wisut Artjanawat (THA), Jyoti Randhawa (IND), Unho Park (AUS), Peter Senior (AUS), Uttam Singh Mundy (IND), Lam Chih Bing (SIN), Jochen Lupprian (GER), Atthaphon Prathummanee (THA).
71 - Harinder Gupta (IND), Amardip Malik (IND), Rahil Gangjee (IND), Firoz Ali (IND), Anura Rohana (SRI), Kim Hye-dong (KOR), Scott Barr (AUS), Stephen Scahill (NZL), Keith Horne (RSA), Gary Rusnak (USA), Mark Brown (NZL), Harmeet Kahlon (IND), Michael Wright (AUS), Gaganjeet Bhullar (IND), Lee Won-joon (AUS), Simarjeet Singh [A] (IND), Jin Park (KOR).