Indians start as strong challengers in Avantha Masters


Gurgaon: The Indian players start as the major challengers in golf’s biggest extravaganza in India at the second edition of Avantha Masters that tees off at the DLF Golf and Country Club Thursday, with the finals scheduled Feb 20.

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Currently, the only event in India to be co-sanctioned by the European Tour, the Asian Tour and Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI), the Avantha Masters boasts of an increased prize fund of 1.8 million euros, a significant 20 percent rise on last year’s total.

Indian golfers have already earned the reputation of being very strong on their home turf, as time and again they have won major international events at home and a good number have finished close to the top.

The field at the event has all the top four career money earners on the Asian Tour, who between them have won the Asian Tour Order of Merit seven out of the last 10 times. The field also includes 13 players who between them have won 19 titles in India and four Europeans who have played on Ryder Cup teams.

“Increasing the prize purse means more incentive and a greater competition among all players to achieve glory. Our endeavour over the years is to make the Avantha Masters one of the strongest landmark professional golf events in the region,” said Yogesh Agarwal, COO of Avantha’s flagship company, BILT, and a key member of the Avantha Leadership Team.

Leading the Indian challenge in 2011 is Jeev Milkha Singh, quite easily the most recognizable golfing face from India, whose global reputation is huge, having won on Asian, European and Japan Tours.

The three-time European champion is, however, yet to win in his home country, a record he is very keen to set right. This time, as he slowly moves into his rhythm, he will be hoping to dethrone the defending champion Andrew Dodt of Australia and pick up a European Tour title in his own country.

“It is great that we have a European Tour event in India, and it would be a huge honour to win in front of my own people,” said Jeev Milkha Singh. “Indian golf has become very strong, and we have a very good crop of youngsters who can challenge on any tour on their day.”

Jeev, who has just recovered from injury, said, “I’m feeling much better. I’ve played the last four weeks in the Middle East swing and this is my fifth week in a row. There is pain and I’m not 100 percent. I think I’m moving in the right direction and I’m doing a lot of yoga and physiotherapy. I’m taking three weeks off after this and I think I should be ready in another month’s time.”

Richard Hills, Ryder Cup Director representing The European Tour in India this week, said, “Indian golf has never been in such a strong position. The PGTI is now a well respected domestic Tour around the world, while the global successes of players such as Jeev Milkha Singh and S.S.P. Chowrasia on The European Tour, coupled with Arjun Atwal and Shiv Kapur on the US PGA and Asian Tours, provide irrefutable evidence that Indian golfers can compete and succeed on the world stage.”

The field will also see other leading Indians S.S.P. Chowrasia, winner of the European Tour event Emaar Masters in 2008, Jyoti Randhawa, former Asian Tour Order of Merit winner, who has won a record five Asian Tour titles in India, and Shiv Kapur, former Volvo Masters of Asia champion.

Also present will be Gaganjeet Bhullar, who last month won the first-ever European Challenge Tour event in India at Gujarat Kensville Challenge.

He grabbed a hat-trick of titles as he added two more in Dhaka and Kolkata, both of which feature on the Aircel Indian PGTI Tour.

Bhullar, said, “I’m having a dream run this year, winning three weeks in a row and I could not have asked for a better start to my season. I’m really feeling positive about my game right now and let’s see what happens this week.

“Last year’s season-opener was just my first tournament for the year but this year, I’ve already won three tournaments in a row so I think it’s definitely going to be better than last year,” said Bhullar.

Andrew Dodt, who won his maiden professional title at the Avantha Masters, says he cannot wait to return to the DLF Golf and Country Club as he attempts to spark memories of his career-changing victory last year. The Australian emerged the victor with a brilliant birdie on the 72nd hole to take the title by a single stroke.

“I didn’t play as well as I would like to, making just one cut out of four events so far this year. But having said that, I just need one good round to kick start things and hopefully it’ll happen this week,” said Dodt.

The international starcast includes Ryder Cup players Paul Broadhurst and David Howell of England, Søren Hansen of Denmark and Irishman Paul McGinley, as well as a trio of Thai stars, Thongchai Jaidee, Thaworn Wiratchant and Chapchai Nirat, all of whom have tasted success on Indian courses.