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3-stroke lead for Shamim

- Senior pro Mukesh still in the reckoning despite poor putting
Shamim Khan on the penultimate day of the McLeod Russel Tour Championship, at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, on Friday. Telegraph pictures

Calcutta: Mukesh Kumar was cursing himself. After missing a four-feet birdie putt on the 18th hole, he banged his putter onto the golf bag and smiled wryly at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC) crowd.

The senior pro had every reason to be unhappy. He spurned a very good chance of narrowing the gap with leader Shamim Khan as the birdie was there for the taking. By his own admission Mukesh’s putting on Thursday, the penultimate day of the McLeod Russel Tour Championship, was a four-letter word, which ends with t.

Overnight leader Shamim, who was with Mukesh and Shankar Das, had just found a bunker on his second shot. He recovered well with a delightful chip, which landed a few feet off the hole. That enabled him to have a par-round.

“He hit that chip really well. After his shot hit the bunker and mine was just four-feet from the hole, I thought he would have a bogey and mine would be a birdie. It would have been a different scenario then,” Mukesh said later.

Quite true as that would have made Mukesh two strokes closer to the leader. That did not happen and Shamim, who posted a three-under-69, is now three shots clear of the rest of the field with an overall score of nine-under-207.

There is a three-way tie for the second place between M. Dharma (72, 71, 67), Abhijit Singh Chadha (74, 67, 69) and Mukesh (68, 71, 71) at six-under-210.

Shamim (70-68-69) had a solid start to the day as he made pars on the first three holes. He then increased his lead by collecting birdies on the fourth, sixth and eighth to make the turn at three-under for the day. On the sixth, his outstanding approach shot landed within a foot of the pin while on the eighth he knocked down a 25-footer.

The 34-year-old continued to impress with the putter on the back-nine as he converted a 15-feet birdie putt on the 10th.

Shamim stumbled with a double bogey on the 12th where his tee shot hit a tree and landed in the rough. The leader came up with a glorious tee shot on the 13th where he missed a hole-in-one by a whisker.

Shamim has now emerged as the favourite for the Rolex Rankings crown as he is currently seven shots clear of the other contender, Rashid Khan.

Mukesh, though, can play the party-pooper. If he has the final laugh on Saturday and Shamim doesn’t finish on the top two, then the Order Of Merit award will go to the Mhow-based golfer.

“It will not be easy for Shamim. Take my word… There are three of us at the second spot and then three more are five strokes behind the leader. It will be an intriguing day of golf on Friday. This is a tough course,” said the veteran of many a battle.

Meanwhile, M. Dharma shot the day’s joint best score of 67 to climb to tied second place.

The 26-year-old Bangalorean sank three birdies on the first four holes, dropped a bogey on the ninth and closed with three more birdies on the last four holes.

Dharma, whose best finish in a professional event has been third, said: “I putted really well from a range of seven to 12 feet. I also made some great recoveries from tough situations. My ball landed in the trees on the 16th but I managed to land my second shot from there within 12 feet of the flag.

“This has been my best season since turning professional as I have claimed two top-10s this year. I’m quite excited about playing in the final day’s leader group for the first time.”

SSP Chowrasia shares fifth place with Vijay Kumar of Lucknow and Sri Lankan Mithun Perera at five-under-211.

Jyoti Randhawa, Anirban Lahiri, Manav Jaini and Mohammed Islam share 11th position at one-under-215. Mohammed Islam’s 67 was the joint best score of the day along with Dharma’s round.