The caddie-turned-professional golfer had won his last tournament in 2018 when he won QA Infotech Open and had two top-five finishes in 2019.
Even though Chandigarh golfer Akshay Sharma was playing on the competitive circuit after a gap of seven months, the 30-year-old did not show any rustiness as he grabbed the lead with a brilliant opening round of eight-under-64 at Panchkula Golf Club in the PGTI Players Championship on Wednesday. Sharma, who trains at the Chandigarh Golf Club, was also competing for the first time in a tournament being played on two different golf courses, and Wednesday saw him grabbing a two-shot lead over Bengalurus’s Chikkarangappa. Like Sharma, Chikkarangappa too was playing on the 7,179-yard-long Panchkula Golf Club and shot a round of six-under-66 while third-placed Sunit Chowrasia carded a round of five-under-67 at Chandigarh Golf Club to be placed third.
“As a golfer, one sees playing on his home course as an advantage but I knew that if I had to win the title here, I have to make a good start in the first round at Panchkula before I play the second round at Chandigarh. It’s a challenging format for all as both the golf courses are very different. At Panchkula Golf Course, wind plays a huge part and I am happy that I could manage my momentum on the back-nine when wind speed got high. Posting a good score on the course, where the final two rounds of the tournament will be played, also puts you in a positive state of mind,” Sharma said.
Sharma started the opening round with three birdies on the front-nine, which included a 12-15-feet putt on the eighth hole to make him finish the front-nine with three-under-33. The back-nine saw Sharma sinking three consecutive birdies starting a tough birdie conversion on the tenth hole. Sharma would then sink two more birdies on the back-nine to end the day being the leader. Wednesday saw Sharma hitting 17 out of 18 greens in regulation and the Chandigarh golfer also credits some crucial par saves to help him grab the lead. Sharma missed the course record of nine-under-63 made by Mandeo Singh Pathania in 2009 by just one stroke.
“I knew that I have to make a good start so that I can be in good form during the back-nine. Sinking two birdies within the first four holes made me to shake some initial nervousness. Saving par on four holes on front-nine was also very crucial. The 368-yard-long tenth hole is also a tricky one and the birdie on the tenth hole set the momentum for me. The 601-yard-long 15th hole too poses a different challenge and the birdie on the 15th hole in windy conditions too was a crucial one for me,” Sharma said.
The caddie-turned-professional golfer had won his last tournament in 2018 when he won the QA Infotech Open at Noida and had two top-five finishes last year, including a fifth-place finish in the Jeev Milkha Singh Invitational 2019. “During the lockdown, I spent some time on basic training and sorting out some flaws in my game. Playing in the five PGTI tournaments this season is a good start for all of us,” Sharma said.
S Chikkarangappa sank nine birdies during his first round but three bogeys spoilt the Bengaluru golfer’s efforts a bit. “Getting into competitive golf after seven months is a challenge for every golfer but I am happy that once I was on the golf course, the initial nervousness just went away. I was playing after seven years at Panchkula and the course has improved much,” Chikkarangappa said.
He added, “Making some crucial par saves, including the par save on the 11th hole, where I recovered after hitting the ball into water hazard, helped me. Regarding playing on two different golf courses, I think switching off your mind from on course and seeing the second round as a new tournament will help. Chandigarh Golf Course is a longer course as compared to Panchkula and big trees means the iron-play and wedges come into play more.”
Chandigarh golfer Karandeep Kochhar was placed tied-fourth along with Manu Gandas as both of them carded a round of four-under 68. Another Chandigarh lad Aadil Bedi was tied-sixth after a round of three-under-69.
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