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Golfing world gushes about India’s potential

By V Krishnaswamy, IANS

Gurgaon : Even as the golfing world is fired up with the visions of an Indian charge across the greens of Asia and Europe, the cream of Indian golf will line-up against the best of Europe and Australia in the $2.5 million Johnnie Walker Classic 2008 at the Arnold Palmer-designed DLF Golf and Country Club.

Three weeks before this tournament, often seen as a classic in the world of joint-sanctioned events, the Indians seemed to have had the better of the top Europeans led by World No. 4 Ernie Els, as the unheralded S.S.P. Chowrasia showed nerves of steel to walk away with the biggest prize ever on home soil.

Now there is another chance for the Indians to play the same winning tune once again.

This time, the likes of Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa and Arjun Atwal look as confident and probably for the first time, even world stars like World No. 5 Adam Scott, No. 11 Vijay Singh and eight-time European Order of Merit winner, Colin Montgomerie do not discount the possibility of an Indian charging up the leaderboard for what could be the first Johnnie Walker triumph for an Asian golfer.

The field also has other top-50 stars like No. 24 Ian Poulter, No. 42 Miguel Angel Jimenez, No. 44 Soren Hansen and No 45 Robert Karlsson making this one of the strongest ever fields assembled outside of the HSBC Champions.

Scott leads the field and it was him, who Butch Harmon marked out as the player most likely to challenge Tiger Woods in future. Scott, himself is more modest.

When asked for his reaction, Scott replied, “Yeah, I certainly have a desire to do that. But it seems like I put together the pieces of the game very slowly, so he always seems to be getting further and further ahead, which isn’t very encouraging.

“Realistically, though, I don’t see anybody challenging him (Woods) week in, week out. I see the opportunity for a few players to have their moments where they can challenge him, but he really is on a different level to us at the moment. Maybe he’ll win every week this year, we’ll see but he normally doesn’t win every week, so there is opportunities to beat him,” he added.

Scott like other before him Montgomerie and Vijay Singh waxed eloquent about the potential in India. “There’s certainly a big push for golf in India. This is the part of the game that I love, getting the opportunity to travel the world and coming to places that I may not have been able to go to.”

Vijay believes India’s hosting of major golf tournaments will eventually create a new wave of Indians breaking through the ranks.

“I think it’s good. It’s good for golf in Asia. In India, they have had one tournament a few weeks ago and really, it lives up to the expectations and younger players coming up here know how to play. They know what they need to do, how good you have to be to beat the guys coming over,” said Singh, a three-time Major champion.

Montgomerie, agrees with Singh. He said he would not be surprised if another Indian winner emerged and followed in the footsteps of S.S.P. Chowrasia, who scored a stunning victory at the Emaar-MGF Indian Masters earlier this month.

“The Indian challenge is very strong. They have more opportunity now to play the game and they are taking the opportunity and working hard,” he said.

India’s own Jeev said it would be an “icing on the cake” if another local winner emerged at this week’s Johnnie Walker Classic.”

“I think that would be great for Indian golf. We’ve come a long way and I think there’s a lot of depth in Indian golf. The players are maturing up really well and they are more comfortable playing with bigger players. They start believing that if we can do it, why not us,” added Jeev.

Chowrasia, India’s newest golf sensation, is relishing the opportunity of going head-to-head with Scott in the Johnnie Walker Classic starting on Thursday. The third player in the group is the charismatic Miguel Angel Jimenez, winner of the 2004 Johnnie Walker Classic.

The 29-year-old Chowrasia is looking to bounce back from last week’s disappointment of missing the cut at the SAIL Open on home soil. He said he is now “refreshed” for this week’s challenge at the DLF Golf and Country Club.

“I putted badly last week after the high of the previous week (where he won the Emaar-MGF Indian Masters). I wasn’t really mentally there. I went home, got fresh and I’m feeling much better and raring to go now.”I’m looking forward to playing alongside Adam Scott and Jimenez in the opening two rounds,” said Chowrasia.

Chowrasia earlier this month stunned a field that included Ernie Els to win the Indian Masters and said the victory has given him the confidence to take on the world’s leading players.

After winning over US$400,000 for his career breakthrough, Chowrasia, the son of a greenkeeper in Calcutta, said he will not change one bit. “My life hasn’t changed … it won’t. The only thing that could change is that I’m going to play a bit more in Europe. My confidence has gone up. After winning the Indian Masters, I feel I can do it in Europe as well. I’ve got the confidence to do it again.

“I’m going to give Europe a shot. My plan is to play a maximum of three to four weeks over there and reassess my game and plan ahead again. I’ll try to play in countries where the weather is not too harsh and try to find my comfort zone. I’ll take it one tournament at a time,” said Chowrasia.

Apart from world stars, the top Asian names include Thailand’s Thaworn Wiratchant, Chapchai Nirat, China’s Liang Wen Chong, the 2007 Asia No. 1.