As the birdie-putt rolled into the cup, Anirban Lahiri pumped his fist in a gesture that reflected what it meant for him to retain the title in the $300,000 SAIL-SBI Open golf championship in a tense play-off with local favourite Rashid Khan.
It was, after all, a nerve-wracking finish. In regulation play on the final day, Lahiri snatched the lead from overnight leader Mohammad Siddikur Rahman by end of the sixth hole and held on to it until Rashid, playing in the group ahead, signed off with a birdie to be the clubhouse leader for once with a six-under 66.
Under tremendous pressure to find a birdie on the 18th hole to force a play-off, Lahiri held his nerve and finally putted from seven feet for a 68 to tie with Rashid at 15-under 273.
Soon, the players returned to the tee-box of the par-5 18th, the first play-off hole. After two shots, Rashid chipped to about 15 feet from the cup. With some heat off him, Lahiri chipped to within four feet of the flag.
Rashid missed the birdie-putt and Lahiri sank his — his fifth birdie on the 18th this week.
‘Still in disbelief’
“It’s not sunk in. This was the only time that I went into the 18th hole trailing as Rashid finished ahead of me and made birdie. The last couple of times I played that hole, I was either ahead or tied for the lead,” Lahiri said.
“I’m still in disbelief that I made the putt in regulation and got into the playoff. After that, in the next 15 minutes, I didn’t know what happened.
“Unfortunately for Rashid, it didn’t work out. I feel bad for him as he doesn’t have a card on the Asian Tour. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
Rashid said: “In the play-off, I just misread the third shot. I wasn’t too sure of the line and hit it too far right.”
“I was expecting Anirban to make a birdie (on the final hole) in regulation for the play-off. I knew it was going to be a play-off. I was prepared for it.”
Interestingly, this was Lahiri’s third Asian Tour title, in successive years, and all have come at the Delhi Golf Club following play-offs. In the 2011 Panasonic Open, Lahiri won a three-way play-off involving Manav Jaini and Singapore’s Mardan Mamat.
Last year, in this championship, Lahiri defeated Thailand’s Prom Meesawat on the first play-off hole.
Lahiri also became only the second Indian to defend an Asian Tour title. Jyoti Randhawa had retained the Hero Honda Masters in 1999 and the Indian Open in 2007.
Lahiri’s latest triumph was worth $54,000.
A crestfallen Rashid received $33,000 for his best finish in an Asian Tour event.
Siddikur, who birdied the final hole for a 73, was third and collected $18,900.
At one stage, four Indians looked like making the top-five bracket.
Shiv Kapur hung on to finish fourth and collected $15,000 but rookie Khalin Joshi — joint leader on the first two days and third at the start of the final round — needed par on the final hole to finish tied fourth, but triple-bogeyed for a 76 and slipped to tied 11th.
Final scores (Top-5): 273: Anirban Lahiri 71, 68. 66, 68, Rashid Khan 72, 64, 71, 66 (Lahiri won the first playoff hole). 277: Mohammad Siddikur Rahman (Ban) 68, 68, 68, 73. 278: Shiv Kapur 69, 70, 69, 70; 279: Pawin Ingkhapradit (Tha) 70, 69, 71, 69 and Mathew Stieger (Aus) 70, 71, 68, 70.