Digboi, (Assam): Bengaluru’s Abhishek Jha fired six-under-66 to emerge the opening round leader at the 20th edition of the IndianOil Servo Masters at the Digboi Golf Links here on Wednesday.
M Dharma, another Bengalurean, Kolkata’s Shankar Das, a three-time winner at Digboi, and Om Prakash Chouhan of Mhow, were close on the leader’s heels in tied second with scores of five-under-67 at the Rs. 60 lakh event.
Abhishek Jha began the tournament in splendid fashion with a chip-in birdie on the first hole. The tall and lanky Jha, one of the longest hitters on the TATA Steel PGTI, continued his good chipping form to set up more birdies on the seventh and 11th, recovering well from the bunker on the latter. Abhishek also sank birdies from a range of 12 to 20 feet on the eighth, 13th and 15th.
Jha, who kept his card free of bogeys, said, “Chipping was the weakest link in my game so I’ve worked really hard on it recently. The hard work is paying off now as was evident from today’s round where I played a lot of good chip shots. The gradual improvement in my chipping is helping me reduce the number of bogeys and increase the number of birdies during my rounds.
“It’s always good to start a tournament with a birdie and that too a chip-in. So that opening birdie literally set the ball rolling for me. I made a couple of good par saves on the front-nine and sank more than my fair share of putts with 23 putts in total. I mostly kept the ball in play and made 11 greens in regulation.
“I’ve been playing some quality golf recently as I shot just one over-par score in my last 15 competitive rounds. I’ve not been posting very low scores but I feel I’ve been in good rhythm in the second half of the season so far.
“I just love coming back to Digboi as I enjoy the weather, the fresh air and the serene surroundings here. It reminds me of the time I spent during my childhood in Digaru, Assam, where my father was posted while serving in the Air Force.”
Shankar Das, who won the last of his three titles in 2015, also fired an error-free round. Shankar’s five birdie putts were all within eight feet thanks to his precise approach shots. Das missed out on last year’s event due to ill-health. He will now look to make up for that.
Om Prakash Chouhan was one-under through 14 holes before he came up with some magical wedge-play that earned him birdies on his last four holes. Chouhan chipped himself out of trouble on the sixth, eighth and ninth. He also drained a 35-footer on the sixth.
M Dharma struck seven birdies and two bogeys during his 67 which placed him in a three-way tie for second position. Dharma narrowly missed eagles on two occasions.
Three-time winner and defending champion Shamim Khan of Delhi occupied tied fifth place at 68 along with Sri Lankan Anura Rohana and Gurugram-based Abhishek Kuhar.
Shamim had a slow start with a bogey on the first and was in further trouble when his drive found the hazard on the seventh. However, he recovered well to extract a birdie on the seventh and then went on to add four more birdies to his card.
Delhi’s Chiragh Kumar was tied 16th as a result of his 70. Teenager Kshitij Naveed Kaul of Delhi, ranked fourth on the PGTI Order of Merit, the highest in the current field, carded a 73 to be tied 46th. Sunil Mura was the highest-placed among the local professionals as he shot a 74 to be tied 60th.