CHANDIGARH: Local favourite Akshay Sharma, who is riding on the confidence of his win on the PGTI last month, came up with yet another top-notch performance, a four-under-68 in testing conditions at the Chandigarh Golf Club, to take the halfway lead at the Jeev Milkha Singh Invitational 2020 presented by TAKE Sports.
Thirty-year-old Akshay, thriving in home conditions, took his tournament tally to nine-under-135 to gain one spot from his overnight tied second at the Rs. 1.5 crore event. Noida’s Amardeep Malik and Gurugram-based Veer Ahlawat shot scores of 68 for the second day in succession to be one off the lead in tied second.
Eighteen-year-old Delhi-based rookie golfer Harshjeet Singh Sethie, the tallest player in the field at six feet six inches, struck a fine 67 to be placed fourth at seven-under-137.
Pre-tournament favourite Anirban Lahiri moved up five places into tied fifth at six-under-138 thanks to his second round effort of 68. The others in joint fifth were PGTI Order of Merit leader Udayan Mane (67) of Pune, as well as the Bengaluru duo of first round leader Khalin Joshi (72) and C Muniyappa (67).
Among the other prominent names, Gaganjeet Bhullar (72) was tied 28th at even-par-144, SSP Chawrasia (74) was tied 38th at one-over-145 and Jyoti Randhawa (72) was tied 44th at two-over-146.
The cut was declared at three-over-147 and 57 professionals made the cut for the money rounds. The big names who missed the cut were reigning PGTI Order of Merit champion Rashid Khan (74) who totaled seven-over-151 and tournament host Jeev Milkha Singh (77) who totaled eight-over-152.
Akshay Sharma (67-68) admitted to striking it better than round one as he hit 13 regulations, one better than his round on Thursday. Sharma made five birdies and a bogey on his action-packed back nine and missed out on a hole-in-one by a foot on the 11th. He also made a good chip-putt for birdie on the 17th and followed that up with an exceptional approach on the 18th, which had a tight flag, to set up a birdie. Akshay then had a contrasting front-nine where he made pars all the way.
Sharma said, “Four-under is a great score considering that I started in the morning today when the conditions are tougher due to the lower temperature and the fairways playing longer. My target was to hit the first five greens and I succeeded in doing that playing two-under on the stretch in the process.
“I had a quiet back-nine but importantly didn’t drop a shot there. It’s probably the comfort of playing at my home course and the momentum from last month’s performances that has kept me going.”
Both Amardeep Malik (68-68) and Veer Ahlawat (68-68) moved up from overnight tied fourth to tied second as a result of their rounds of 68.
Amardeep Malik, who has been working on some swing changes, made six birdies and two bogeys during the day. He also had a couple of brilliant par saves on the seventh and ninth where he made up and downs from 100 yards and 50 yards respectively.
The tall and lanky Veer Ahlawat came roaring back with six birdies on his front nine after having dropped two bogeys on the back nine. Veer, playing with a new putter, sank all his birdie putts from a range of 10 to 20 feet.
Anirban Lahiri (70-68), still adjusting to the pace of the greens as he is playing in India after a long gap, did well by picking up five birdies and a bogey. The highlight of his round was the massive 330 yard drive on the seventh hole where he pocketed a birdie.
“Adapting to the conditions here is still work in progress for me. In round one I was completely at sea, today I was a little less at sea, maybe tomorrow I’ll see land,” chuckled Lahiri.
Chandigarh’s Karandeep Kochhar, the winner of PGTI’s last event staged in Chandigarh last month, had made a disappointing start to the week with a 76 on Thursday. But Kochhar bounced back in style with the day’s best score of 66 on Friday. It placed him tied 18th at two-under-142.
Kochhar said, “I guess it was just the comfort level today as I was more comfortable playing along with Anirban in the same group. In round one I was very nervous as I was playing in the same group as Anirban for the first time. I was not able to focus especially in the first half of the round and I wasn’t myself. I was more at ease today and therefore played with more confidence. The goal was to shoot a six-under today and get to a total of two-under in order to give myself a chance. I managed to do that. My pace on the greens was also really good today.”