PANCHKULA: Chandigarh’s Akshay Sharma emerged as the outright favourite for the title after extending his lead to a commanding five shots in round three of the TATA Steel PGTI Players Championship 2020 Presented by Panchkula Golf Club. Akshay, the overnight leader by three shots, came up with a composed five-under-67 on Friday despite some early jitters in his round. The 30-year-old who has led the field for the first three days now has a tournament tally of 19-under-197.
Karandeep Kochhar, also hailing from Chandigarh, struck a 69 to continue in second place at 14-under-202. 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.
Akshay Sharma (64-66-67) continued to impress at the first PGTI event in eight months as he worked his way to a healthy lead on day three thus setting himself up for his second title. Sharma, who had gone bogey-free in the first two rounds, made his first error of the week when he dropped a double-bogey on the second after an inaccurate bunker shot.
Akshay, a winner on the PGTI in 2018, came roaring back after the early setback by picking up 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. 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 its 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.
Karandeep Kochhar (68-65-69), who trailed the leader by three at the start of the day, kept pace with Akshay for most of the day collecting five birdies on the first 13 holes. Kochhar drove the green on the par-4 sixth to make birdie there and also set up four feet birdie conversions on the fifth and eighth.
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.”
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. Viraj Madappa struck an incredible 64, one shy of Mandeo Singh Pathania’s 2009 course record of 63. After a quiet front-nine where he made a birdie and bogey, Madappa’s round took flight on the back-nine thanks to his phenomenal putting as he sank an eagle and six birdies including five on the trot from the 13th to the 17th. Viraj made an 85-feet putt from the front edge of the green for his eagle-two on the 11th. He then knocked in 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. It was a tale of two contrasting nines – front and back. On the front-nine, I struggled with my tee shots and hitting but managed to be par at the turn thanks to some good up and downs. On the 12th I found something in my swing that gave me the momentum for the rest of the round.”
Udayan Mane of Pune, the PGTI Order of Merit leader, posted a flawless 66 to move up 10 spots to fifth place at eight-under-208. 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. Gurugram-based Veer Ahlawat (72) was tied 12th at four-under-212. 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.