Thursday, 26 January 2012
Rahil Gangjee (shotsonthefairway.com) ()
Rahil Gangjee (shotsonthefairway.com) ()

Rahil Gangjee staked an early claim to keep the Gujarat Kensville Challenge title in Indian hands as he led the field on four under par after the first round of the €200,000 event, the first of the 2012 Challenge Tour season.

The Calcutta man led by a single stroke, with Shiv Kapur, Dodge Kemmer and Gary Lockerbie waiting in the wings just a shot behind in a tie for second place.

Despite increasingly blustery conditions at the Jeev Milka Singh-designed Kensville Golf and Country Club in Ahmedabad, north-west India, Gangjee covered the front nine in just 32 strokes to reach the turn on four under par.

The course record of 67 appeared in grave danger when the 33 year old added further gains at the 10th and 12th holes, only for two consecutive bogeys from the 13th to check his charge. A birdie at the 15th hole was cancelled out by a closing bogey to leave Gangjee on four under par.      

Kapur, who signed for a flawless three under par round of 69 on his Challenge Tour debut, claimed that the season Gangjee has just spent competing on the US Nationwide Tour had made him a better, more aggressive player, and the man himself was inclined to agree with his close friend’s assessment.

He said: “I’m now always thinking of the next birdie, not about playing safe, and that’s the sort of mind-set you need if you’re going to win on the Challenge Tour, the Nationwide Tour or any of the world Tours. Maybe on the back nine today I made a few silly mistakes, but better to try to make birdies than to be conservative. Now the aim is to go low again tomorrow.

“I think to follow up a good round with another good round is what everybody looks to do. It’s not always easy, but if I get into the same rhythm that I had today, I’ve got a good chance. I hit the ball well and putted really well, which is very encouraging.”

Kapur lost his playing privileges on The European Tour last term after six seasons on the top tier, but proved that his confidence remained intact with a dominant display.  After ten straight pars, a birdie putt from 20 feet on the 11th green proved the catalyst for a back nine of 33.

The 29 year old, who has taken up membership of the Challenge Tour, is hoping his round will act as a springboard for his maiden title on the European circuit, having won once on the Asian Tour.    

He said: “That putt on 11 really got things going. It’s quite easy to get frustrated when you’re playing well but not holing birdie putts, but I finally got one to drop so that gave me some momentum. Then I hit it close on the 13th and holed a good putt on the next, but missed a couple coming home. But I played quite steady overall.

“If you have a bogey-free round, I guess you know your game is in good shape. I didn’t make too many mistakes and kept the ball in play, and on the holes where I missed the green I was only a yard or two out, so I didn’t really leave myself in any tough positions to make pars.

"I’m pleased with a round like that after taking a month off, which is what I needed to recover from a disappointing season on The European Tour last year. I thought there might be some rust in the system after a month away, but my game was pretty sharp.”

He was joined later in the day by Lockerbie, whose day got off to an astounding start when the Englishman holed his approach shot on his first hole, the par four 10th.

“It was the first hole of my first tournament of the year so I’m very pleased with that,” said Lockerbie. “I just hit a driver down the middle and I had 117 yards down the breeze, so it was just a gap wedge.

“I couldn’t see it land, we heard it but we didn’t know it went in so got a nice surprise when I went up there. It just went straight in, no bounce so which doesn’t happen very often, so you take them when they come.”

The 29 year old added birdies to that eagle, on the 12th and 14th holes, to reach the turn in four under par. But he stumbled with bogeys on the first and third, before a birdie on the sixth was followed by a birdie-bogey finish to sign for a three under par round of 69.

American Kemmer joined the duo on three under soon after but, having teed off on the tenth hole before birdieing the 15th, he had to battle hard for his 69 after he could only reach the 17th green in six shots. But he holed his putt for a double-bogey before birdies on the second, fifth, sixth and ninth holes carried him to three under par.

“It was a disappointment,” said the 24 year old. “I thought being one under going on to 17 was good, but afterwards I knew I had to battle to even get back to par. But after the double-bogey I started playing better, hitting it where I was aiming and made a few good putts.

“It definitely could have gone either way after some of the shots I hit on 17. It could have gone the other way, but I’m proud of myself for hanging in there.”

Gaganjeet Bhullar’s title defence got off to a steady start, meanwhile, as the young Indian began with eight successive pars before dropping a shot on the ninth hole to reach the turn on one over par.

His back nine was much more eventful, however, as he birdied the 12th, 13th and 14th holes to move to two under par. Mistakes on the 16th and 17th holes led to back-to-back bogeys, but a birdie on the final hole meant he finished the day on one under par with a 71.

Elsewhere, former World Amateur Number One Peter Uihlein’s professional career did not get off the start he desired after a triple bogey on the par four third hole tarnished an otherwise steady round of 76.

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1KIEFFER, MaximilianGER18-7
2GANGJEE, RahilIND18-7
T3DWYER, PaulENG18-5
T3MACAULAY, CallumSCO18-5
T3HARTØ, AndreasDEN18-5
T6RUSSELL, RaymondSCO18-3
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