SPORT

Chiranjeev on top of the leaderboard

Chiranjeev Milkha Singh (right), who returned the best card of the day, acknowledges the crowd's cheers along with his legendary father Milkha Singh, on the opening day of the Hero Honda Masters golf tournament in New Delhi on Thursday.  

NEW DELHI NOV. 6. With the law of average loaded heavily in his favour, Chiranjeev Milkha Singh started his campaign in the $300,000 Hero Honda Masters golf championship on the right foot.

Looking to win his sponsor's event, Chiranjeev blended caution with aggression to fire six-under 66 and opened a two-stroke lead on the opening day at the Delhi Golf Club course here.

Late in the day, last year's Indian Open champion Vijay Kumar joined Mexican Pablo Del Olmo in the second spot. The duo was a stroke ahead of the pack that included Arjun Atwal and amateur Vikrant Chopra.

Twice champion Jyoti Randhawa shot a 71 to be among the bunch of 23 players who broke par. Interestingly, 17 out of these 23 are Indians.

Indeed, Chiranjeev did not strike the ball to his liking. But made up for his mistakes with some `fantastic' putting. A total of just 25 putts reflect Chiranjeev's work on the greens, most of which were hard and fast.

Having changed his swing and gained in confidence, in the last two months, Chiranjeev has got used to good starts. The trouble is, he has not been finishing well. He knows only too well that to win anywhere in the world these days, one has to put together four good rounds. Chiranjeev has often faltered to deceive. One hopes, this time it's different.

An `eagle' and five birdies against the lone bogey, on the 10th hole, made Chiranjeev's card. He saved pars on three holes and missed birdie-opportunities on two. He started with a birdie and added another one, from about nine feet on the eighth.

On the back nine, where seven greens have been re-laid, Chiranjeev played even better. The high point was the `eagle' on the 14th, where his tee-shot landed on the fairway-bunker. It was here that Chiranjeev produced a beauty. His three-iron shot covered around 245 yards and he had no difficulty with his eight-foot birdie-putt.

His course-management was near perfect. Off the tee, Chiranjeev consistently managed to keep the ball in play and then attacked the pin with great success.

Vijay Kumar, backed by Cosmo Films, was a picture of consistency. After covering the front nine with lone birdie for a 35, Vijay Kumar birdied the 12th, 17th and 18th holes and signed off with a bogey-free 68.

Atwal, despite a final-hole bogey, had no complaints following a 69. He thought he had set himself up for a good week ahead. Pleased with the way he hit the ball, Atwal had reasons to feel that he could have putted a little better.

Randhawa began with bogeys on the 10th and 11th holes but picked up strokes on the 14th and 18th, both par-five holes. Coming in, Randhawa birdied the second and third holes before a double-bogey on the fifth undid the good work. If Randhawa still managed break par, it was due to his birdie on the sixth hole.

Among the amateurs, Vikrant Chopra returned a 69. Starting from the 10th tee with a bogey, Vikrant took the turn at level par and birdied the first, second, seventh and eighth holes for a back-nine 33.

The scores (Indians unless stated): Chiranjeev Milkha Singh 66; Pablo Del Olmo (Mex) and Vijay Kumar 68; Vikrant Chopra (A), Jaiveer Virk, Jumman, Pappan, Arjun Atwal and Pat Giles (Aus) 69; Glenn Joyner (Aus), Vinod Kumar, Arjun Singh, Ashok Kumar, Anthony Kang and C. Muniyappa 70; Digvijay Singh, Ali Sher, Jyoti Randhawa, Ajay Gupta, Akinori Tani (Jap), Shamim Khan, Rafiq Ali and David Gleeson (Aus) 71; Other prominent Indians: Feroz Ali, Gaurav Ghei, Devender Patel and Uttam Singh Mundy 72.