CHANDIGARH: Chandigarh’s Akshay Sharma capitalized on his familiarity with his home conditions once again as he managed to pull himself out of trouble on day three to continue as the frontrunner in the title race for the Jeev Milkha Singh Invitational 2020 Presented by TAKE Sports.
Thirty-year-old Akshay, the overnight leader by one shot, carded a hard-fought one-under-71 on a day that witnessed swirling winds at the Chandigarh Golf Club to take his tournament total to 10-under-206, one ahead of the rest, at the Rs. 1.5 crore event.
However, the leader Sharma, who won the last of his two titles on the PGTI a month back, has his task cut out with a number of strong contenders breathing down his neck in the chasing pack.
Noida’s Amardeep Malik, who was overnight tied second, also returned a 71 on Saturday to be placed second at nine-under-207.
Pre-tournament favourite Anirban Lahiri (70) gained two spots to occupy tied third at eight-under-208 along with Patna’s Aman Raj (68) and Gurugram’s Veer Ahlawat (72). While Aman gained seven spots in round three, Veer dropped one spot.
Chandigarh’s Karandeep Kochhar produced the round’s best score for the second day in succession as he shot a 67 to rise 12 positions to sixth place at seven-under-209.
PGTI Order of Merit leader Udayan Mane (72) of Pune, Bengaluru’s Chikkarangappa (70) and Delhi-based teenaged rookie Harshjeet Singh Sethie (73) were all tied seventh at six-under-210.
Among the other prominent names, SSP Chawrasia (70) was tied 21st at one-under-215, Gaganjeet Bhullar (74) was tied 36th at two-over-218 and Jyoti Randhawa (73) was tied 42nd at three-over-219.
Akshay Sharma (67-68-71) found himself in a hole when he dropped early bogeys on the first and fourth not being able to strike it accurately due to the wind. However, he got in his stride with a 20-feet birdie conversion from just off the green on the 10th.
Sharma then picked up birdies on the 13th and 14th sinking a 35-feet putt on the latter to tilt the balance in his favour. Akshay finally made a good chip-putt for par on the 15th to keep his nose ahead of the rest.
Akshay said, “The weather conditions were the toughest today especially when I started. It was extremely windy so club selection was difficult and that resulted in bogeys for me early on. On the front-nine I found only four greens in regulation and just couldn’t hit it close enough.
“I’m generally one-under on the first four holes but being two-over this time there was some pressure on me. The pressure only released with the 20-feet birdie conversion on the 10th. I knew I could get a few more birdies thereafter so I was in good rhythm from there on.
“A score of one-under is very good keeping in mind today’s conditions. I know there will be stiff competition on the final day with a lot of names in the reckoning including Anirban but I will just focus on executing my plans.”
Amardeep Malik (68-68-71), another two-time winner on PGTI, came up with an eagle, three birdies and four bogeys during his 71 to keep himself in the hunt. Malik struck a fabulous approach on the par-5 13th to set up a five feet eagle conversion. He also closed the day in style with a birdie chip-in on the 18th from behind the green.
Malik said, “It was a really tough day for me considering the wind and the flags being tough. After bogeys on the 11th and 12th I did well to recover with the eagle on the 13th. I then ended the round well with birdies on the last two holes. The chip-in on the 18th probably saved me two shots.”
Aman Raj will be the third player in the leader group on Sunday thanks to his bogey-free effort of 68.
The highlight of Veer Ahlawat’s round was his massive tee shot on the par-5 13th that landed just short of 400 yards.
Anirban Lahiri (70-68-70) continued to make his gradual progression up the leaderboard with his 70 which featured three birdies and a bogey. He also recovered well from the bushes to make par on the 16th.
Lahiri, who struggled with his putting on Saturday, said, “It was another good day of ball-striking but the toughest day for me on the greens. I missed so many putts inside 10 feet and also missed a couple of three-footers.
“However, I feel I didn’t hit too many bad putts. I made a lot of good strokes but had a few bad breaks today. I feel as long as I’m stroking it well on the greens and doing what I need to do, I should have nothing to complain about.”