Three Indians in Top-15 as Luiten, Nakajima and Manassero share lead at Hero Indian Open

Three Indians in Top-15 as Luiten, Nakajima and Manassero share lead at Hero Indian Open

Joost Luiten of Netherlands, a regular at the Hero Indian Open, shot 7-under 65 and then called the DLF Golf and Country Club as “a demanding course” but also confessed that he likes it.

 

Luiten is a six-time winner on the DP World Tour, but has been winless on the tour since 2018.  At the end of the first round, among the co-leaders was the incredible young talent from Japan, Keita Nakajima, who spent a record 87 weeks as the World’s No. 1 amateur before turning pro in 2022 and winning three more times and emerging as No 1 in Japan Tour – an achievement that earned him a card into the DP World Tour.

 

Then there was Matteo Manassero from Italy, another former World No. 1 amateur in 2009, who by 2012 became the first teenager to win three times in Europe and then went on to win the BMW PGA Championship in 2013. Then he did not win till earlier this month, when he triumphed at the Jonsson Workwear Open in South Africa. His bogey-free 65 in the opening round at Hero Indian Open indicated the resurgence continues.

 

The bunch at 4-under and Tied-14 included three Indians – Aman Raj and Om Prakash Chouhan, who had their best cards at this course, and Karandeep Kochhar, who joined them later.

 

Luiten said, “I have good memories from last year, I was struggling with my game before that but finished third in Thailand and then third here (at Hero Indian Open). I like this golf course, it’s very demanding and you just have to hit it straight. It’s suits my game, especially today.

 

“This course is demanding. Every tee shot, you know you can’t hit it that far off line or you’re in a hazard or have a lost ball. There’s so many things going on. It’s a very demanding golf course, especially off the tee. If you can get the ball in the fairway you can shoot a score. I think that’s what I did. Unfortunately, I had to take two bogeys, but that happens on this golf course.”

 

India’s Chouhan, who came onto the DP World Tour as the winner of the PGTI Order of merit, said, “The Hero Indian Open is very important to me because if I do well, I will have a good chance to improve my ranking and save my card for the next season. So my entire focus is on doing well this time. Tomorrow I’m playing in the morning. There is a difference as in the morning there will not be as much wind as in the afternoons. At the Hero Indian Open at DLF,  I have missed the cut always. Today I was just focussing on my normal game and not play attacking golf.”

 

Aman Raj, who has his friend and fellow pro, Arjun Prasad on the bag this week, said, “Even if I leave the score aside, I’m just really happy with the way I was playing, some very stable golf. You know, all in all, tee shots were on point, gave myself a lot of chances. To be honest, it was only 50% of them, but you know, I was just very glad that I’m giving myself chances, hitting fairways, putting it on the green, giving myself those 15-20 footers and making the up and downs for par as well.”

 

Speaking on Arjun Prasad, Raj added, “I think all the credit goes to him. You know, he really helped me being calm and being stable with the shot decisions and reading the lines, everything. I mean, whatever I was doing, I was able to do in a better way and wherever I was lacking, he was there to help me out. So it’s great.”

 

Shubhankar Sharma, the top-ranked Indian began with a bogey, but braving a cold and slight body ache, he finished 2-under 70 and was T-34 as was Gaganjeet Bhullar. Sharma and Bhullar are the front runners to get to the Paris Olympics from India.

 

Talking about 2 under 70, Sharma said, “It was a very consistent round overall. I didn’t make many mistakes, the places that I did make mistakes on 18 and probably on 8 where I had chip outs. I made good pars. Except for that one bogey on the very first hole of the day which was the 10th where I three-putted. But it was a good round overall. Gave myself so many opportunities and I could have easily been a 6-7 under. It was 2 but I’m really happy that I stuck in there, played really well to the end.”

 

Anirban Lahiri, a former winner in 2015, had a forgettable 5-over which had very few moments of joy barring the birdies on the 13th, his fourth hole of the day, and the ninth, which was his closing hole. He was T-127 and staring at an early exit barring a dramatic second round.

 

As three players shared the lead at 65, three others Jordan Smith (England), Sam Bairstow (England) and Romain Langasque (France) carded 66 each to be tied fourth. Seven others shot 5-under 67.

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