Jeev leads Indian show at Volvo Masters

December 17th, 2008 - 5:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangkok, Dec 17 (IANS) Seldom has Indian sporting strength been so pronounced in a single sport as it is at the season-ending Volvo Masters of Asia golf tournament, which begins Thursday.Seven of India’s leading professionals and two teenage amateurs who have already made rapid strides in junior ranks make up a big chunk of the field of 68, which also includes six amateurs. Only the Australians with 16 and Thais with 10, comprising eight pros and two amateurs, have more players in the field.

Apart from Jeev Milkha Singh, the other Indian pros in the field are S.S.P. Chowrasia, Jyoti Randhawa, Gaurav Ghei, Digvijay Singh, Shiv Kapur and Gaganjeet Bhullar.

Arjun Atwal, a member of the US and European Tours, is not here only because he did not play the required 10 events, even though his season’s earnings, bolstered by the Maybank Malaysian Open title, was enough to see him in the top-20.

The amateurs are 17-year-old Rashid Khan, winner of the Faldo Series Asia last year, which earned him a berth here, and 18-year-old Rahul Bakshi, who was second to Khan. Bakshi went on to win the under-18 title at the Faldo Series Grand Final in Brazil to earn a spot in Bangkok with the continent’s top pros.

“It is a sign of growing strength of Indian golf,” said Jeev, who has bagged his second Asian Tour Order of Merit in three years. “I have time and again maintained golf is the fastest growing sport in India and this proves it. Look at the number of titles Indians have won and look at the way junior talent has come up.”

Two other Indians standing close to him on the driving range, Jyoti Randhawa and Shiv Kapur, nodded in agreement. Randhawa won the Volvo Masters of Asia in 2004 and Kapur won it in 2005.

It has been a bitter-sweet season for Jeev. His feat of four wins and clinching of the Order of Merit was dampened by the loss of his first child, who was stillborn two weeks ago. “That was God’s will. It was not in our hands. But all our friends and family were right behind us and it was a great support,” said Jeev.

Jeev last week also signed to endorse his first major golfing project, the Sytop Golf Village, which is coming up in Mysore. “It will also have a academy. I always wanted to give something back to the game through an academy,” said Jeev, who turned 37 on Dec 15. The academy has been named Jeev Milkha Singh Golf Academy.

This year Jeev, just as in 2006, has won four times, twice in Japan and once each in Asia and Europe. He also bettered his career-high ranking to 36th, one better than what he was at the end of 2006.

For most players the Volvo Masters is one last shot at glory this season. But Jeev admitted he had hardly touched a club in the past week.

“I have not touched a club for a week. But I have been playing well this year, my game has been excellent and I rate this as the best year of my career so far. Coming into the Volvo Masters of Asia, I’m not very well prepared.”

Kapur earned the last card in Europe this year, while young Bhullar, in only his second season as a pro, won the last card on the Asian Tour with a brilliant 64 on the final day of the Cambodian Open last week.

“It was a great day when I earned my card,” said Bhullar.

Ghei, who has been consistent throughout the season, has not won since the Pine Valley Beijing Open last year, while Chowrasia has not been able to make an impression since his epic breakthrough win at the Emaar-MGF Indian Masters in February.

Digvijay, who makes his debut at the Volvo Masters, finished fourth at the Indian Masters to take a big step towards his 2009 Tour card. He will play his first full season next year in Asia.

Jeev and Jyoti may be among the front runners, but the man in form is Thongchai Jaidee, who has had back-to-back wins in Vietnam and Cambodia in the last two weeks. Then there is defending champion Prayad Marksaeng, who has won three titles in Japan this year.

“I’m feeling comfortable and my form is coming back. My putting had been bad all year and then I started putting cross-handed in the last two weeks and won both events,” said Thongchai, who has won this tournament twice before in 2003 and 2006.

He singled out compatriot Prayad and Singh as his most likely challengers. “Prayad is in top form and Jeev has had another great year with so many wins,” said Thongchai, who last week equalled Thaworn Wiratchant’s record 10 Asian Tour titles.

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