Panasonic Open: Siddikur leads; four Indians tied 2nd

Siddikur RehmanNew Delhi: Manav Jaini was flawless for the second day in row, while Gaganjeet Bhullar did not miss a single fairway and the duo along with Ashok Kumar and Shankar Das, were close on the heels of the leader Bangladesh’s Siddikur (67) at the midway stage of the Panasonic Open India on Friday.

Siddikur, who holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole had a five-man bunch including four Indians within one shot of him. Also in this group was Thai Prom Meesawat, who is chasing his first title since 2006.

Siddikur was six-under 138 for 36 holes, while Jaini (67), Bhullar (67), Das (69), Ashok (69) and Meesawat (69) were at five-under 139.

Meanwhile defending champion and first round leader, Anirban Lahiri, dropped as many as six shots between the eighth and 15th to card 75 and drop to tied 17th at even par 144.

Indians continued to hold sway in the event with eight of them inside top 16 places as the cut came at six-over in trying conditions. A total of 21 Indians made the cut, and the biggest casualty was Himmat Rai (79-77) and also making an early exit were Swede Rikard Karlberg, who has won two titles at this course, and Ajeetesh Sandhu.

SSP Chowrasia (72), Harmeet Kahlon (71) and Digvijay Singh (73) were lying tied 11th at one-under 143, while Sanjay Kumar (72) was tied eighth at 142.

Jaini, who lost in the play-off of this very event last year, had 18 pars on the first day and on Friday, he had five birdies and no bogeys. “My game is in good shape and I am staying in the present. I am playing according to the situation. I know this course well and it can always strike back at any time, so I am trying to avoid taking any chances, especially in such tough conditions,” said Jaini.

He birdied the second, fourth and eighth on the front nine and then added two more on 10th and 18th.

Bhullar found all 14 fairways from the tees and had four birdies and an eagle on the 14th. His lone blemish was the bogey on par-3 17th. Starting from the 10th tee, Bhullar got off to a fast start as he sank a 30-foot chip in birdie on the 13th hole and fired an eagle-three on the next hole when his six-iron approach shot landed six feet from the hole.

“I hit the ball really close which was different compared to yesterday. This season has just started and if I compare this season and the last, I feel that I’m hitting the ball better. I did a few changes in my swing and that has been helping in my ball striking,” said Bhullar.

Ashok Kumar seemed set to take the lead as he five-under through 14 holes. Then he dropped shots on 15th and 16th, but he fought back to get birdies on the last two holes to close the day at 69 and five-under in second place.

Das had five birdies and two bogeys in his 69 and had a share of the second place.

Siddikur, who is the first Bangladeshi to play and win on the Asian Tour, fired six birdies against one bogey. Siddikur, who won his maiden Asian Tour title in 2010, credited his hot putter for the solid round where he made 24 putts highlighted by a monster 30-foot birdie putt on the third hole.

“My putting was so good. My caddy was telling me that I needed to hole the birdie putt on the last hole (12 feet) to lead the tournament and I was very confident because I had a good line,” said Siddikur, who has taken golf in Bangladesh to new heights with his solid performances on the Asian Tour.

Siddikur said his game has been on the upswing since taking a one-week lesson at a golf academy at the renowned TPC Sawgrass in the United States.

“I’ve been struggling with distance in the last couple of years so I decided to try an American coach (Todd Jones) in Florida to help me. I went for a week and it was great for my game,” said Siddikur, who finished fifth at the SAIL-SBI Open last month.

The halfway cut was set at five-over-par 149 with a total of 65 players making the weekend rounds.