Close friends Rahil Gangjee and Shiv Kapur will go head to head over the weekend of the Gujarat Kensville Challenge, where they are bidding to become the tenth professional player to win on their Challenge Tour debuts.
Twelve months ago their fellow Indian Gaganjeet Bhullar took the title on his maiden Challenge Tour appearance, and the duo will now hope to follow in his spikemarks after reaching the midway stage of the season-opening event on seven under par.
Despite losing his playing privileges on The European Tour last year, Kapur proved he had lost none of his sparkle with a round of 68 which began with a birdie on the tenth hole and included an eagle on the 14th.
The son of a stockbroker from New Delhi added further birdies at the 17th and first holes, before a bogey at the par five sixth hole – where he failed to get up and down from a bunker – marred an otherwise flawless exhibition.
Kapur said: “The conditions were a little easier, because it wasn’t as windy as yesterday, so the pins were a little more accessible. I got off to a great start with a birdie on the tenth, which was my first hole, then managed to pick up three more shots without too many heroics.
“I hit lots of greens but didn’t hole any really long putts, just burned quite a lot of edges. I changed my putting grip from yesterday, and that seemed to help me with my pace. If you feel like you’ve hit a good putt, even if it doesn’t go in you can’t feel too disappointed.
“The only blemish of the day was a silly bogey at the sixth, where some indecision on the second shot cost me dear. I left myself with a tough bunker shot and didn’t manage to get up and down. It would’ve been nice to have had another bogey-free round, but it wasn’t to be and I’m still in a great position going into the weekend.”
Overnight leader Gangjee, fresh from shooting a closing round of 63 to gain his card at the Asian Tour Qualifying School, continued the form he had shown on the opening day.
Starting on the tenth tee, the 33 year old again endured an eventful back nine, mixing four birdies with two bogeys, but he was much steadier coming home with just a solitary birdie on the sixth hole punctuating a run of pars.
Unlike Kapur, alongside whom he will be playing a competitive round at the weekend for the first time, Gangjee struggled on the greens at Kensville Golf and Country Club, on the outskirts of the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad.
He said: “I didn’t hole too many putts to be honest so I struggled a bit today, the greens got much firmer than yesterday and somehow that didn’t really help me. Then when I missed the greens, it was difficult to control the distances of my chips because they would bounce and take off. They’ve cut the grass down a lot so it’s a little more difficult to read the greens, but that also makes it more interesting.
“I was quite aggressive on my back nine because I knew I wasn’t doing a good job of going low, so I was quite irate to say the least! I was trying to stay calm, although it was a passive aggressive kind of thing. But I calmed myself down a bit after a few holes, got my rhythm back and just waited for it to happen.
“My driving was good today, though I had a very close shave on the ninth hole, my last. I say a close shave, but I couldn’t fit a razor blade between the ball and the Out of Bounds line – it was that close. Not even an inch. If it was half a ball more it would have been out, so I tried not to stand too close to the ball either! But I got it out with a decent six iron and two-putted, which was a nice way to finish. I almost holed the birdie putt too, which would have been an even nicer way to finish!”
The English duo of Seve Benson and Gary Lockerbie currently trail the leading duo by one stroke alongside Jens Dantorp, who topped the Nordic League Order of Merit last year.
Like Kapur, the young Swede has only dropped one shot in 36 holes, with a bogey at the 13th hole the only blemish in his round of 68.
The Challenge Tour rookie said: “I started off well, played very solid from tee to green and managed to hole a few putts. My strategy for the whole week is just to try to keep the ball in play, because with the hard greens we have here, you have to hit the fairways to stand any chance of getting close.
“I was pretty confident coming into the new season after the way I played on the Nordic League last year, so it’s good to get off to a fast start. I believe in myself and in my game, and I think it’s good enough to play on higher Tours, so hopefully I can prove it by getting my European Tour card.”
Having both graduated from the Challenge Tour in 2008, Benson and Lockerbie have previous experience of life on The European Tour, and neither did their chances of securing a return to the top tier any harm after posting respective rounds of 68 and 69.
Benson said: “I played nicely today, compared to yesterday. I scrambled a bit yesterday, but my long game today was in good shape. On the front nine I had the putting boots on, but I went a bit cold on the back nine. But overall I still I holed my fair share, so I can’t complain.
“It’s not a bad start to the season so far, after finishing 159th on The European Tour last year. My game feels like it’s been getting better and better, but the scores just haven’t reflected that over the past year. Plus I’ve been coming back from injury so it’s going to take time but as long as I keep going in the right direction, that’s all I can ask for really.”
Former World Amateur Ranking Number One Peter Uihlein of America ground out a gritty round of 72 to scrape under the cut line on four over par.