As expected at the Delhi Golf Club, the first couple of pages of the leaderboard were inundated with Indian names. But all of them were chasing an unheralded Thai going into the final round of the DGC Open.
Coming into the event, not many would have heard of Nitithorn Thippong, and with good reason. The 25-year-old had never led an Asian Tour event before coming to Delhi, but a two-under par 70 on Saturday took the golfer from Bangkok to an eight-under aggregate and a two-shot lead over India’s Ajeetesh Sandhu at the Lodhi Course.
Not that Thippong was the only one from his country in contention. Settee Prakongvech’s 70 was enough to put him in sole possession of third spot, a further shot back, on a day when dropped shots were more frequent than birdies and eagles with only 11 players breaking par.
If one goes by pedigree and past record, Gaganjeet Bhullar (fourth at four-under) has to fancy his chances. Nine wins on the Asian Tour (the most by an Indian) and local knowledge should count for something.
Thippong didn’t have everything going his way, and had to grind out a decent round. “I just focus on my process, just play, and have fun. I didn’t hit many greens today, but I made a lot of great up and downs, I think I made almost all my up and downs,” he reflected.
Sandhu went backwards in relation to par with a round of one-over 73, and it was an eagle at the par-five 14th hole that gave him the chance to be in the final group, sandwiched between the two Thais.
The winner of the 2017 Yeangder Tournament Players Championship fought through the day to stay in the running.
“A difficult day. The wind was off, the course was firm. It was a very good test out there today,” the 33-year-old from Chandigarh said. “I hung in there today, didn’t really have my best day. Off the tee, with the irons, and with the putter, everything was kind of average. But I’m glad I’m still up there and I’ll have a shot to win tomorrow, so that means a lot.”
Veer Ahlawat, the leader at the halfway mark, had a disappointing day with a 78, but only five shots behind Thippong.
Bhullar was in an upbeat mood after finishing his third round with a birdie. “The last four to five holes were playing really tough and the moment you missed the green there, making an up and down was not easy. I’m glad I finished the round with a birdie on the 18th,” he said. “On such days, it’s very important to gauge the conditions early on in the round. I’ve played in worse conditions in Europe so I used that experience today. I kept telling myself that no one is going to hit low scores, so just keep making fairways and greens and keep making the up-and- downs.” Prakongvech was one of the rare players to break par on the day. A round of two-under 70 may not seem eye-catching on low-scoring days, but on Saturday it was enough for him to jump right into contention.
“The wind was very strong today and it was always changing, it was difficult,” he said. “In my starting holes, I hit very good tee shots, good second shots, good putts, so everything came together. But in the middle, I missed some key shots, some holes I missed and chipped out. The greens were a bit faster today and a bit hard. And also, the pin positions were difficult. I didn’t expect too much today, but no one played well.”
At an aggregate of one-over, SSP Chawrasia may seem out of the reckoning but the Kolkata pro made the best of the tough conditions in a round of three-under 69.“I was actually at 4-under but bogeyed my last hole. But anyway, three-under is a good round today. It was very windy today and it was playing really tough. The redesigned greens are playing the toughest. They put up a very tough setup. Not easily accessible,” Chawrasia said.