Divyanshu Bajaj is best-placed Indian in tied second
Bengaluru: Germany’s Michael Hirmer shot a sizzling eight-under 64 for the first round lead at The Challenge 2023 presented by KGA, a US$300,000 event being played at the Karnataka Golf Association (KGA) course in Bengaluru.
Divyanshu Bajaj posted an impressive 65 to be the best-placed Indian in tied second place at the event co-sanctioned by the Challenge Tour and PGTI. German Philipp Katich and Englishman Alex Fitzpatrick shared the second spot with Bajaj.
Kartik Sharma and Mari Muthu are the two Indians bunched in tied fifth place at 66 along with six other players.
The 26-year-old Michael Hirmer, who hails from Munich and is playing in his rookie season on the Challenge Tour, began the week in style with six birdies on the back-nine where he had four long conversions and a tap-in. Michael added three more birdies in exchange for a bogey on the front-nine. He drove the green on the par-4 first hole.
Hirmer, who finished tied 18th at last week’s event at KGA, said, “I got off to a great start, my putter was really hot and I was in a nice flow this morning. I hit some good irons today and stayed patient. Last week I played well but didn’t make my putts. It was nice to see some putts drop today.
“I love the weather and the grass here. It’s a different style course but I think the layout is great. I have a few birdie holes on my mind and the focus is to try and get pin high on every approach. It’s important to hit fairways on this course and I’ve done a good job of that so far.”
Divyanshu Bajaj had an ideal start to the day with a 25-feet birdie conversion on the 10th and hole-in-one on the 13th. The 33-year-old from Kolkata then had a stutter with a bogey on the 14th where he found the trees twice. Bajaj then rallied with five birdies between the 15th and the third hole where he drained some long putts. He set up a tap-in on the third with a terrific wedge shot from the rough from a distance of 150 yards.
Divyanshu, searching for his maiden title, said, “It’s been a long time since I shot such a low score. I was playing well and performing consistently on the PGTI till 2019 just prior to the onset of Covid. But thereafter I had some health issues due to which I struggled on the golf course. I’ve addressed the health problems with some changes in my lifestyle such as restrictions in my diet. These changes along with my self-belief have helped me get my game back on track.
“I had an excellent start today and the hole-in-one on the 13th was a huge confidence-booster. After making bogey on the 14th, I came back really well. I was very stable from there on and kept the errors out of my game even though I missed a couple of birdie opportunities from 10 feet on the front-nine.
“I like this golf course as I’ve had some good finishes on the PGTI here. I’m carrying those good memories into this week.”
Kartik Sharma scored seven birdies and a bogey during his effort of 66. Kartik made four birdie conversions from a range of 10 to 25 feet.
Mari Muthu, playing at his home course, produced some excellent drives and wedge shots during his round that included seven birdies and a bogey.
The Indian duo of Patna’s Aman Raj and Khalin Joshi were placed tied 16th with rounds of 68.
Among the prominent Indian names, Karandeep Kochhar and Chikkarangappa were in tied 47th place with rounds of 70 while last week’s winner Om Prakash Chouhan and Rashid Khan were a further shot back in tied 66th place.