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SSP hopes to do an encore

- YOUNG GUNS SET TO GIVE BIG NAMES A RUN FOR THEIR MONEY

Calcutta: SSP Chowrasia flashed that infectious smile when asked about last year’s McLeod Russel Tour Championship. “Oh! It was a memorable Saturday for me. The way the crowd backed me was amazing.

“I am hoping to do an encore this time as well,” Chowrasia, who is known for his last-round surge, said during a media conference, at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC), here, on Wednesday. The 2013 McLeod Russel Tour Championship, the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI)’s year-ending championship, begins at the Royal on Thursday. But for Chowrasia, who grew up at the Royal and knows the course like the back of his hand, it will be not be that easy to do an encore.

The reason is simple On this occasion, the 65-player (top-60 in the Rolex Rankings and five on invitation) field is very competitive and it’s something the defending champion also agrees. “It will be a battle of wits from tomorrow ,” was Chowrasia’s take.

Yes, the field is very tough. For, you have the likes of Gaganjeet Bhullar, who won the Indonesia Open in the first week of December, Anirban Lahiri and Jyoti Randhawa. Anirban and Jyoti were there last year, too, but this time around, Anirban is in great form and will be one of the favourites to win the title.

The rookies also have a chance to finish on a high. In the Rolex Rankings, two among the top-five are in their first year on PGTI Tour S. Chikkarangappa of Bangalore and Angad Cheema of Panchkula.

The 20-year-old Chikkarangappa won his first pro title when he lifted the CG Open trophy in Mumbai earlier this month. The 23-year-old Cheema got his maiden PGTI Tour title when he won the Dialog Enterprise International, in Colombo, in the second week of this month.

“I am not surprised that the younger generation is excelling. This is something I had predicted a couple of years ago. They are the future of Indian golf,” Lahiri said.

“When Gagan (Bhullar) and I were playing the juniors, we used to hit 20-over. And these guys were hitting under-par scores regularly. Chikka won a tournament on the junior circuit hitting 20-under! They are really giving the stars a run for their money.”

Anirban has been in very good form this year. He had the experience of playing alongside eventual Thailand Golf Championship winner Sergio Garcia and world No. 3 Henrik Stenson in the final group. “Look, when I was just 20, I had played alongside Phil (Mickelson). So playing with top players is not something new for me.

“Gagan, Shiv (Kapur) and me are three of the players who are in top-150 in world rankings. It’s like what Arjun (Atwal), Jeev (Milkha Singh) and Jyoti (Randhawa) used to be some years ago. But we need more golfers breaking into the top-150 rankings. In fact, we should have at least three in the top-50,” he added.

While the inaugural edition carried a prize purse of Rs 1.25 crore, the second has an enhanced amount of Rs 1.35 crore. Apart from Chowrasia, there are seven more city-based professionals in the fray. They are Rahil Gangjee (on invitation), Shankar Das, Feroz Ali Mollah, Divyanshu Bajaj, Rafick Ali Mollah, Raju Ali Mollah and Mohammed Sanju.

“I hope somebody from the city has the last laugh,” Chowrasia said, once again sporting that infectious smile. Hopefully, the smile will not turn into a frown on Sunday and he will be laughing his way to the bank with the winner’s purse of Rs 21,39,750.

Padamjit Singh Sandhu (director PGTI) Uttam Singh Mundy (director PGTI), Rajeev Takru (director McLeod Russel), K.K. Baheti (director McLeod Russel) and Gaurav Ghosh (general committee member, RCGC) were also present at the media conference.