Rookie Ashok Kumar strung together a hat-trick of birdies on his closing holes, to leap into the joint-lead alongside defending champion Vivek Bhandari and Shamim Khan at three-under 69 after the opening round of the Noida Open 2002 being played at the par-72 Noida Golf Course on Wednesday.
The tournament forms the 15th leg of the 2002-03 season of the Hero Honda Golf Tour.
Another Delhi golfer Dinesh Kumar was placed fourth at two-under 70 while yet another Dellite Zai Kipgen was placed fifth at one-under 71. Meanwhile, the Tour's top-ranked player Mukesh Kumar shot a one-over 73 for the tied-sixth
Rookie Ashok Kumar has a phenomenal record this season. The 21-year old Delhi Golf Club pro has runner-up finishes at the Hyundai-MGC Open (Chennai) and last week's Tata Steel Open (Jamshedpur), besides three third-place efforts. He is currently ranked fourth on the Money List with his tally standing at an impressive Rs 5,73,000.
Today, Ashok, a tenth-tee starter, played his entire front-nine to par. On his return journey, he birdied the very first hole, but was set back by consecutive bogeys on the following two holes, both due to wayward efforts off the tee. Thereafter he recovered his touch, first sinking a 15-feet birdie putt on the fourth, then closing his round with a hat-trick of birdies on the seventh, eighth and ninth, where he sank 20, 10 and 30 feet putts respectively.
"I didn't sink the birdie putts on my outward journey but rediscovered my rhythm on the greens thereafter," said Ashok.
The Delhi-based Bhandari, who has been forced into the Qualifying stages of the Asian PGA Tour for the first time in seven years, is hoping to get back into good form at the very tournament where he played 19-under last year.
Bhandari's best this season on the Hero Honda Golf Tour has been a fourth place finish at the Honda-Siel PGA Golf
The 31-year old Delhi Golf Club pro played error free golf today with birdies on the fourth, 14th and 17th highlighting his day's card of three-under 69.
"I putted really well today. All my birdies were the result of 10 to 12 feet long putts," he said after tallying 28 putts for his round.
"The Noida Golf Course is playing superb and the greens are very true," concluded Bhandari, who beat Mukesh Kumar on the final hole to win this tournament last year.
Shamim Khan, after starting the day with an accurate approach shot that left him with a two feet birdie putt, suffered a slight hiccup when he dropped a shot on the third. Bagging his second birdie on the fourth and then another on the sixth, the Delhi golfer went on to bogey the eighth to make the turn at one under. Regaining his composure on the back-nine the diminutive golfer birdied the 14th and 18th to tie for the lead.
"I give all the credit to my short game, especially my putting," said the 24-year old.
"The course is playing long and keeping that in mind, I didn't hit too badly either," he added.
Saikia leads amateur field: Aparup Saikia led the amateur field at two-over 74, while the duo of Simarjeet Singh and Gagan Verma were tied-second at 75 each.
Scores (after 18 holes): 69_Vivek Bhandari, Ashok Kumar, Shamim Khan; 70_Dinesh Kumar, Sanjay Kumar; 71_Zai Kipgen, Pappan; 72_Uttam Mundy, Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia, Ajay Gupta, Vinod Kumar, Karan Singh, Randhir Ghotra; 73_Mukesh Kumar, Nabin Mondal, Ali Sher, Monish Bindra, Sheeraz Kalra, Amritinder Singh, Raju Joseph.
Amateurs: 74_Aparoop Saikia; 75_Simarjeet Singh, Gagan Verma.