The Indian challenge at the Rs. 1.5 crore McLeod Russel Tour Championship 2017 will be led by the trio of Shubhankar Sharma, Ajeetesh Sandhu and SSP Chawrasia, all international winners in 2017.
While reigning Indian Open champion Chawrasia will yet again be one of the firm favourites at his home course, Shubhankar Sharma and Ajeetesh Sandhu will also take centre-stage having posted their maiden victories on the global stage only recently.
Twenty-one-year-old Shubhankar Sharma took the golfing world by storm last week when he became the youngest Indian to win on the European Tour after a career-defining three-shot triumph at the Joburg Open in South Africa.
Winning the event, tri-sanctioned by the European Tour, Asian Tour and Sunshine Tour, also earned Sharma a berth at his first Major, next year’s British Open, which would be played at Carnoustie.
Shubhankar reflected on his fairytale week, saying, “What made the victory even sweeter was the fact that the conditions were really tough as it had rained all week. It was also highly satisfying for me to win an event with a field of 240. I’m now really excited about playing my first Major next year.”
Sharma, also a winner on the PGTI this year, is now returning to one of his favourite venues where he tasted success at a PGTI event in March 2016.
Shubhankar, who claimed tied 11th at the Asian Tour event in Indonesia last week, said, “I’m playing well and feeling fit. A full day’s rest on Tuesday did me a world of good. I’ll now look to carry the momentum from the last two weeks. I’ve won at the RCGC in the past and that adds to the confidence. It’s about putting four good rounds together. If I play my best, it should be good enough to win here.
“It’s not an easy course. One has to be accurate off the tee and hit fairways as the rough is up. If you drive it well there are low scores out there.
“The McLeod Russel Tour Championship is indeed the most-eagerly awaited event on the PGTI for the professionals. As a sponsor, McLeod Russel has taken Indian professional golf to new heights. The RCGC and its members have also been very supportive over the years. It’s always a festive atmosphere here at the RCGC during the year-end championship.”
Ajeetesh Sandhu has also enjoyed a golden run this year, first winning on the PGTI in the first half of the season and then following it up with his breakthrough win on the Asian Tour at the Yeangder Tournament Players Championship in Taipei. He also went on to win a Japanese Challenge Tour event thereafter.
Ajeetesh, who sounded a warning to all his rivals by finishing runner-up at the Pro-Am event on Wednesday, said, “The last couple of months have been exceptional. It’s been one of my most consistent seasons having achieved success in India and abroad. I’ve also been in contention on several occasions.
“The RCGC is a challenging course. It tests you in all aspects of the game. It’s also a very fair course where good shots create birdie opportunities. But in order to do well here, you have to be on top of your game from the very first shot.
“It’s great to be back at the McLeod Russel Tour Championship as every professional on the PGTI sets his sights on this tournament at the start of the season. The event is a big incentive for Indian professionals to perform consistently through the season so that they can earn their spots here.
“The professionals look forward to this week as it always has one of the strongest fields on the PGTI coupled with fantastic playing conditions. There is also lot of support from the sponsors as well as the golf fans of Kolkata who come out in huge numbers to catch the action.”
Besides Shubhankar, Ajeetesh and SSP, the other leading Indian names in the field consist of international winners Jyoti Randhawa, Rashid Khan, Chiragh Kumar, Rahil Gangjee and Chikkarangappa.
Interestingly, Rashid Khan and PGTI Order of Merit leader Shamim Khan are joint holders of the course record of nine-under-63. Both achieved the feat in previous editions of the McLeod Russel Tour Championship.
The event will decide the PGTI Order of Merit champion and vying for top honours will be money list leaders Shamim Khan (Rs. 46,27,983), Udayan Mane (Rs. 41,26,751) and Anura Rohana (Rs. 32,68,836), placed first, second and third respectively.
Kolkata-based rookie Viraj Madappa is the favourite to win the PGTI Emerging Player of the Year title. He is 13th on the PGTI Order of Merit and leads the Emerging Player race with season’s earnings of Rs. 18,13,391.