After purring for the first two days, Mukesh Kumar stepped on the gas on day three of the inaugural Rs One million Tata Steel Open golf, when he shot a tournament-best round of five-under 65 to assume a four-stroke lead at the end of the penultimate day's play.
At the Beldih and Golmuri Club courses in Jamshedpur, Mukesh was seven-under 205 for 54 holes, while overnight leader Ashok Kumar overcame a disastrous 17th hole to be in second place at three-under 209. The Delhi youngster made a triple bogey there to finish the day at two-over 72.
Indrajit Bhalotia, Rahil Gangjee (both Kolkata) and Amritinder Singh of Chandigarh submitted identical cards of level-par 70 to be in joint third place at one-under 211. Amit Khaitan continued to be the leading amateur, despite his worst round in three days. A seven-over 77 placed him at six-over 218.
On a day when the players played nine holes each on Beldih and Golmuri courses, Mukesh reduced the gap between himself and Ashok Kumar when he birdied the second, sixth and seventh holes at Golmuri to be one-under at the turn. He made two bogies -- the first coming from the bunker on the third and the second on the ninth, where he missed a two-footer par putt.
However, the nine holes at Beldih was a different story. The Callaway-sponsored Mukesh cracked a 4-iron to 10 feet on the difficult 202-yards par-3 hole and then his six-footer birdie putt on the 11th lipped out. He then made back-to-back birdies on the 12th and 13th holes, before his birdie putt on the 14th stopped agonizingly short of the cup by less
than a roll. A birdie on the final hole from less than five feet ensured him a card of five-under 65.
"I hit the ball very well today and my putting was not too bad either. But I have to play a steady game tomorrow because Ashok is a very capable opponent. I really want to win this tournament, especially because I played with Mr Muthuraman, the MD of Tata Steel, in the pro-am and didn't perform too well on that day. It would be my way of thanking the sponsors for making possible this event for the Indian professional golfers," said Mukesh, after the round.
Ashok Kumar was consistent despite just one birdie -- on the seventh -- and bogies on the third and eighth holes while playing his round at Golmuri.
Though he was one-over after the front nine, he still enjoyed a one-stroke lead over Mukesh when he started the round at Beldih. It all changed on the very first hole when Mukesh made a birdie and Ashok a bogey after going over the green. But the youngster pulled back remarkably and was just one shot off Mukesh with birdies on the 12th and 15th holes. And then came the par-3 17th, where his 6-iron tee shot pushed out, hit a tree and ricocheted for an out-of-bounds. He finished with a birdie, when he sank a difficult 12-footer.
"If I don't win, I don't really care whether I finish second or 20th. The birdie at the 18th has boosted my confidence after the triple bogey. I am going to get into my rhythm for the first five holes, and then go for an all-out attack," said the 21-year-old, who is supported by Adidas.
Scores (after 54 holes): 205 _ Mukesh Kumar (71,69,65); 209 _ Ashok Kumar (69,68,72); 211 _ Indrajit Bhalotia (72,69,70), Rahil Gangjee (72,69,70), Amritinder Singh (71,70,70); 215 _ Shamim Khan (75,68,72), Devendra Patel
(73,70,72), Amit Dube (72,71,72), Shiv Prakash (72,71,72), 216 _ Ajay Gupta (77,71,68), Praduman Guleria (77,70,69); 218 _ Binod Pandey (74,72,72), Sheeraz Kalra (73,71,74); 219 _ SSP Chowrasia (75,70,74), Rohtas Singh (70,74,75), Zai Kipgen (71,69,79).
Amateurs: 218 _ Amit Khaitan (70,71,77).