Akshay Kumar. Pic: PGTI
Panchkula, November 6: Chandigarh’s Akshay Sharma was headed for a wire-to-wire victory as he extended his lead in the TATA Steel PGTI Players Championship 2020 to five shots with a superb 5-under 67 that included a double bogey. He is now 19-under, as fellow Chandigarh golfer, Karandeep Kochhar (69) who now has sole possession of the second place.
While Chandigarh boys led the field, Bengalurean golfers, S Chikkarangappa (72) lies third at 11-under and Udayan Mane, the PGTI Order of Merit leader, shot 66 to move up from T-15 to T-5 at 9-under. Kolkata-born Viraj Madappa (64), who has a strong Bengalurean connection including being coached in the southern golfing hub, is lying fourth at 8-under.
On Sunday, the Chandigarh lads will hold a strong advantage over the Bengaluru boys, who will need to produce something spectacular while hoping the local lads allow them to put a foot in the door.
Akshay, who was bogey free for first 36 holes, dropped an early double bogey on Par-3 second with a messy bunker shot. But then he had seven birdies. He birdied third and then two hat-tricks of birdies followed – first from fifth to seventh and then 12th to 14th. With rounds of 64-66-67 he is now 19-under.
After the early double bogey, he picked birdies on the third, fifth, sixth and seventh. He made a good up and down from the bunker on the sixth and an excellent recovery from the trees on the seventh.
Sharma’s hot putter earned him birdies on the 12th, 13th and 14th where he drained putts from a range of 25 to 45 feet on a day when he made 15 greens in regulation for the second day running.
“It was another solid round for me barring one error early on. My hitting was as good as the last two rounds but I didn’t hit it that close to the holes today. My placement wasn’t as accurate if one compares to the previous two days.
“I made a great recovery from the trees on the seventh where I chipped out and followed that up with an exceptional 3-wood third shot which landed five feet from the pin. I made some long conversions as the greens at Panchkula are playing very soft and true so it’s easier to find the hole if you’re on the right line.
“I have a comfortable lead so I will look to play steady and let the others do all the attacking,” said Akshay.
Kochhar kept pace with Akshay for most of the day with five birdies on the first 13 holes. Karandeep then suffered a couple of setbacks towards the end dropping bogeys on the 15th and 17th. He found the hazard on the 15th and got unlucky on the 17th where his ball bounced on the edge of the green, hit a tree and was deflected about 40 yards away.
Kochhar said, “I had only one bad hole today, the 15th, otherwise it was a good round. I just got a little unlucky on the 17th. A five-shot deficit is not a very big one at Panchkula but the key for me would be playing well on the first four holes and making inroads on that stretch because the following holes do provide scoring opportunities.”
Bengaluru’s Chikkarangappa (72) was placed third at 11-under-205 while Kolkata’s Viraj Madappa fired the day’s best score of 64 to rise 21 spots to fourth position at nine-under-207.
Chikkarangappa (66-67-72) slipped from overnight tied second to third place as a result of his 72 which included three birdies, a bogey and a double-bogey.
Madappa struck an incredible 64, one shy of Mandeo Singh Pathania’s 2009 course record of 63. His round included an 85-feet putt from the front edge of the green for his eagle-two on the 11th. He also holed putts from a range of 12 to 30 feet from the 13th to the 17th.
Madappa said, “I didn’t hit anything close but my putter was on fire as my shortest putt of the day was from 12 feet. I put myself in good spots on the greens as I had a lot of flat putts and didn’t have to contend with the slopes on the greens.
Mane posted a flawless 66 to move up 10 spots to fifth place at eight-under-208. He had a slow start 71-71 on first two days, but another good day could see him inside Top-3, though he is too far behind at 11 shots shy of Akshay.
The other Chandigarh golfers in the top-10 were Aadil Bedi (71) in tied sixth at seven-under-209, Yuvraj Singh Sandhu (68) in tied eighth at six-under-210 and Amrit Lal (72) in tied 10th at five-under-211.
Rashid Khan (74), Khalin Joshi (71) and Aman Raj (75) were all in tied 15th place at three-under-213. Chandigarh’s Ajeetesh Sandhu (72) occupied tied 31st position at one-over-217.