SPORT

Chiranjeev rises and shines

India's Chiranjeev Milkha Singh (right), who went to the top of the leader-board, watches the flight of the ball after teeing off the 18th hole, even as American Andrew Pitts walks away, on the second day of the Hero Honda Masters golf championship in Gurgaon on Friday. - Photo: S. Subramanium

India's Chiranjeev Milkha Singh (right), who went to the top of the leader-board, watches the flight of the ball after teeing off the 18th hole, even as American Andrew Pitts walks away, on the second day of the Hero Honda Masters golf championship in Gurgaon on Friday. - Photo: S. Subramanium  

GURGAON, FEB. 15. The lead changed hands but that did not change the mood of the die-hard home fans here. After all, Chiranjeev Milkha Singh's delightful rise more than made up for Arjun Atwal's disappointing slide. Add to it, Vijay Kumar's swift climb to the third spot with the day's best seven-under 64 and there was plenty to cheer for those present at the DLF Golf and Country Club here.

Enjoying the `perfect conditions' to the hilt, Chiranjeev discovered his `touch' for an eventful 65 which in turn catapulted him to the top with a two-round tally of 133. At the half-way stage of the $ 300,000 Hero Honda Masters golf championship on Friday, Chiranjeev was a stroke clear of Thailand's Prayad Marksaeng.

Vijay Kumar, the `Player of the Year' on the Indian Tour for three years in succession, played his best round of the season. His stroke-selection resulted in some measured approach shots and left him with short putts.

Two strokes behind Vijay Kumar was a steady Harmeet Kahlon, who carded a 68 for an aggregate of 137 to be fifth. Like Kahlon, Shiv Prakash also shot a 68 and was joint-20th at 141. Trailing Kahlon by a stroke, in the sixth place, was Indrajit Bhalotia with two others.

Twice-champion Jyoti Randhawa, too, came up with an improved showing. Following Thursday's par round, Randhawa carved out a 69 and found himself clubbed with four others in the 15th spot.

Holder and overnight leader Atwal, five-over after as many holes, recovered with a vengeance to fire three birdies on the last four holes for a 74. He now finds himself alongside Gaurav Ghei and Arjun Singh, who returned par rounds to share the ninth place.

Later, the `cut' at 146 put out several prominent names. Americans Andrew Pitts, Gerry Norquist, Scott Taylor, Aaron Meeks, South Africa's Hendrik Buhrmann and Thailand's Chawalit Plaphol made their exit. Also out is Korea's Kim Sang- Ki, whose hole-in-one on the third hole today was not enough.

Joining the casualty list was Mukesh Kumar, the leader on the Indian Tour, after rounds of 74 and 77. Vivek Bhandari (77, 70), Rahil Gangjee (77, 70), Amritinder Singh (74, 73) and Zai Kipgen (69, 78) also missed the `cut'.

Coming back to Chiranjeev's effort, a low score was long overdue from him. Six birdies, including a `lucky' 30-foot downhill putt on the 13th hole and a great chip from 15 feet after extricating himself from the bushes behind the leaderboard on the 17th, were the highlights of his blemishless work.

Watched anxiously by father Milkha Singh and sponsor Pawan Kant Munjal, Chiranjeev also recovered brilliantly to find par on the 14th hole after his drive landed next to the right wall. Strangely, he managed to sink putts from 10 to 12 feet but missed on four other occasions from six feet and less. Still, he had no complaints.

``I putted very well,'' said the 30-year-old Chiranjeev about the 26 putts he had on this day. ``It feels great to lead my sponsor's tournament. I am playing solid and looking forward to tomorrow,'' was how Chiranjeev put it.

Atwal, despite his poor start, drew consolation from the fact that he finished strongly. ``I am very happy with the way I pulled back,'' said Atwal, who began from the 10th hole and ended on a high note after birdies on the sixth, eighth and ninth holes. In fact, his putt for an `eagle' on the ninth hole - where tee today was pushed ahead by 40 yards - went in and out of the cup.

As though dropping a stroke each on the 11th and 13th holes was not bad enough, Atwal triple-bogeyed the par-5 14th after hitting his second shot, a 3-iron, into a hazard. He then overclubbed and three-putted from the wrong end of the green. He went on to bogey the par-4 fourth hole to be six-over after 13 holes. Thereafter, Atwal covered some of the lost ground over the last four holes.

lThe scores (Indians unless stated): Chiranjeev Milkha Singh (68, 65) 133; Prayad Marksaeng (Tha) (68, 66) 134; Vijay Kumar (71, 64) 135; Tatsuhiko Takahashi (Jap) (67, 69) 136; Harmeet Kahlon (69, 68) 137; Indrajit Bhalotia (69, 69), Rick Gibson (Can) (69, 69), Daniel Chopra (Swe) (67, 71) 138; Clay Devers (U.S.) (69, 70), Craig Kamps (RSA) (68, 71), Gaurav Ghei (68, 71), Arjun Singh (68, 71), Lam Chih Bing (Sin) (67, 72), Arjun Atwal (65, 74) 139; Ahmad Bateman (U.S.) (73, 67), Anthony Kang (Kor) (72, 68), Jyoti Randhawa (71, 69), Chung Joon (Kor) (70, 70), Michael Christensen (U.S.) (66, 74) 140; James Oh (Kor) (73, 68), Shiv Prakash (73, 68), Thaworn Wiratchant (Tha) (73, 68), Thammanoon Sriroj (Tha) (72, 69), Edward Loar (U.S.) (69, 72) 141; Teh Oh (Kor) (74, 68), Zaw Moe (Myn) (72, 70), Rodrigo Cuello (Phi) (70, 72), Steve Jurgensen (U.S.) (70, 72), Terry Pilkadaris (Aus) (69, 73) 142.

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