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Indian Open golf promises keen fare

March 24, 2004 17:58 IST

On the left of the entrance at the Delhi Golf Club, a billboard proudly informs visitors about the variety of birds that can be spotted at one of the oldest golf courses in the country.

The Indian griffon vulture, the drango, the common peafowl, the roseringed parakeet -- you name it, you have it.

And if it informs us about the richness of fauna, it also indicates how tough the par-72 course is.

Which is why the Royal Challenge-sponsored Indian Open, the flagship event of the Indian Golf Union, starting in Delhi on Thursday, is considered one of the toughest on the Asian Tour.

It may not be to the liking of Tiger Woods for sure. The narrow fairways surrounded by dense bushes severely punish the slightest of driving errors, meaning those relying on power are not guaranteed a top finish.

No wonder Clay Devers, the 36-year-old from the United States with four Asian Tour titles under his belt, has not won once in his seven visits so far.

"I don't have a good driver," he says, with a chuckle. "The greens here are also one of the toughest; I always struggle with my putting."

This also explains why Mike Cunning, the defending champion, cherishes his last year's title the most.

"I love the course; it suits my style and I am not a power golfer," says the 46-year old from the United States who has been playing at the tournament since 1981.

Gaurav Ghei, who won in 1995 when the Open became an Asia PGA event for the first time, sums it up aptly: "There is no home advantage here.

"It is how you play on the day that counts. The key here is to keep the ball in play. At other major tournaments, you can hit a lot of wild shots but not here," Ghei says.

Yet, the beauty of the course has kept the international pros coming back year after year.

This year's edition, with a prize-money of Rs. 13.80 million has attracted 156 participants, including 50 Indians.

The home challenge will be led by Mukesh Kumar and Digvijay Singh, both of whom have displayed good form this season.

The 37-year old Mukesh from Mhow has won two titles on the Indian tour in 2003-04 and will be aiming for nothing less than a top placing, which is also likely to give him the Champion Golfer of the Year trophy for the fifth straight year.

'Diggy' played in the World Cup in the US this year and then flew in straight to Kathmandu to pocket the Surya Nepal Masters.

The major threat for the hosts will be from Greg Hanrahan of the US, Boonchu Ruangkit of Thailand and another American, Edward Michaels.

Hanrahan, who will be teeing off with Digvijay, finished second at last week's Caltex Masters in Singapore and is currently placed sixth on the Asian Tour Order of Merit.

Ruangkit, one place above Hanrahan on the money list, won Thailand Open in February while Michaels annexed the Philippines Open title and also has the experience of playing on the Nationwide Tour, otherwise called the smaller USPGA.

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