Kolkata, Dec 24 (IANS) Bengaluru golfer S. Chikka, local boy Rahil Gangjee, Gurgaon-based Jyoti Randhawa, Australian Kunal Bhasin and Sri Lankan N. Thangaraja netted scores of four-under-68 to emerge as the joint leaders in the first round of the Rs 1.5 crore McLeod Russel Tour Championship here on Thursday.
The leading quintet was two shots clear of the rest of the field on an overcast but high scoring day at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC).
Chikka, currently second in the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) Rolex Rankings, about Rs. eight and a half lakh rupees behind leader Mukesh Kumar of Mhow, began his campaign on a promising note with an eagle and four birdies against two bogeys.
Chikka produced a massive drive on the 15th hole followed by an eight feet conversion to help himself to an eagle. He also had two early birdies on the second and third where he rolled in a 12-footer and a mammoth 70-footer respectively.
He seemed to be heading for the sole lead with a 15-feet birdie conversion on the 16th, but found the trees on the last hole to drop a shot.
“I didn’t drive that well today but was sharp with my short game as I managed to make a number of long putts. My tee shots need to improve if I have to be in contention this week,” he said.
Gangjee too negotiated the tough scoring conditions well with five birdies and a bogey. His round featured four birdie conversions from 10 to 15 feet and a couple of brilliant par-saves.
“The course is quite challenging this year and playing longer due to some of the tees being moved back as well as the rough and the colder weather conditions, I did really well to save par from difficult situations on the sixth and seventh, perhaps two of the toughest holes on the course,” said Gangjee.
Randhawa, one of India’s all-time greats, also ended the day on top of the pack thanks to six birdies and two bogeys. He was one-under through 11 before picking up three more shots on the last seven holes.
Randhawa said: “I hit it good today and got my timing back which was lacking for some time. I feel the front-nine here is tougher than the back-nine which has more potential for birdies.”
Thangaraja, also a joint leader, set up three tap-in birdies for himself on the front-nine courtesy some accurate iron-play. He narrowly missed a hole-in-one on the second. However, Thangaraja also missed half a dozen short putts that stopped him from going lower.
Bhasin made it a five-way lead at the top as he sank some long putts on the back-nine en route to his 68.
The chasing pack of ten golfers in tied sixth place at two-under-70 included former champions Shankar Das and S.S.P. Chawrasia, both from Kolkata, Rolex Rankings leader Mukesh and Chandigarh’s Abhijit Singh Chadha, who is currently third in the Rolex Rankings.
Rookie Udayan Mane of Bengaluru, at the moment coasting towards the Emerging Player of the Year title, got off to a solid start with a one-under-71 to be tied 16th.
Three of the pre-tournament favourites Chiragh Kumar (72), Gaganjeet Bhullar (two-over 74) and Himmat Singh Rai (80) were placed tied 25th, tied 44th and 68th respectively.