India’s S.S.P. Chawrasia will be aiming to become only the second golfer after compatriot Jyoti Randhawa to successfully defend the Hero Indian Open title when the prestigious tournament begins on Thursday.
The 38-year-old Chawrasia, who is a five-time Asian Tour winner, will need to reproduce last season’s heroics at a different venue this week, with the US$1.75 million championship moving to the DLF Golf and Country Club’s Gary Player course.
Randhawa, who is a three-time winner of the tournament, won back-to-back in 2006 and 2007 at the Delhi Golf Club to complete his hat-trick of titles.
Chawrasia, who won at the Delhi course by two shots last year, will face a stern challenge in his defence against the likes of Ryder Cup star Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain, who is the highest ranked golfer in the field at world number 26, 2015 Hero Indian Open champion Anirban Lahiri of India, current Asian Tour number one Scott Hend of Australia and Thai duo Kiradech Aphibarnrat and teenager Phachara Khongwatmai.
The powerfully built Cabrera Bello is a two-time winner on the European Tour but he has not tasted victory since 2012. He contended at the UBS Hong Kong Open last December before finishing second and enjoyed a tied sixth in Qatar earlier this season.
The 17-year-old Phachara, who has enjoyed two runner-up finishes already this year and currently ranks third on the Asian Tour Order of Merit, will be hoping to claim a first victory in the Hero Indian Open 2017, which is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour for the third successive year.
S.S.P. Chawrasia (Ind)
“It’s (DLF) totally different compared to Delhi Golf Club. A few holes area really tough, but it’s tough for everyone. I’m going to give it 100%, that’s all I can do. I was runner up four times in this event and I was a bit frustrated as I have to win the tournament. The national Open is like our fifth Major, and finally I won it last year and I got the trophy. I’m going to be give it my best and hopefully I can carry the trophy again.
The greens and fairways are a little bit tricky. You have to place the ball at the right spots. That’s the trick. Next few days, that’s what I want to do. I have a lot of good memories of the tournament and the only thing different is that we’re on a different course. I’m thinking I’ll just replay all my good memories.
This is a tough course, if we play here more often, we’ll get used to it. It’s a different course. I don’t think there’s home advantage as it’s a new course for most of us. DGC is also a tough course but we’ve played there so many times and we know how to play it. That’s why Indians always play well in DGC.
Phachara Khongwatmai (Tha)
My game now feels very good. Short game, driving and hitting, it all feels very good. Last year, I just put in more practice, and more fitness, and I especially worked on my short game. It’s nearly perfect.
It’s a very good course. Every hole feels challenging which I like. I really like this golf course. I hit the ball high and the greens here quite firm, so it could be very good for me. I just want to play. I never go out in a tournament and think that I will win but if I do win, it’s probably because I have gotten lucky.
Rafa Cabrera Bello (Esp)
I’m obviously very happy to be here. I’ve come far from Mexico (World Golf Championships last week). I was trying to work out how many miles, how far away that is. My game, you know it hasn’t been as good a start as last year but it hasn’t been bad at all. I’ve made all of the cuts I’ve played, I’ve been in contention once or twice. Obviously it’s getting there, the game is good, I just maybe haven’t had that bit of momentum to really be competitive in the last few holes. I’m confident that can change very soon.
It is a very strong field, obviously. Some very great players are competing here. All of the top Indian guys, who always make it very hard for us playing in India. They have the support of the crowd and the national pride of playing in your own country. I think that has helped them to a lot of success in the history if the event.
Anirban and SSP, both are great players. They are very, very complete. Anirban I really think is a world class player. What I have always enjoyed and valued a lot about Indian players is how naturally talented they seem to be. The majority of them you look at their swings and they don’t look mechanical at all. It seems like they have been born with it and almost self-taught.