Noticing Harbhajan Singh Bhullar follow his son, Gaganjeet, to the tournament office, a rotund gentleman took brisk steps towards him with the words, “Sir, what a son you have!” Winning the DLF Masters' team championship as part of the leader group, comprising Gaganjeet and Ashok Kumar, had been an overawing experience for the greying amateur. On his part, Bhullar Sr accepted the compliment with a slight nod and allowed the man to engage him in a brief conversation.
The scene at the far end told a different tale. Upset yet putting up a brave front was Gaganjeet. He tried to laugh away his woes, saying, “It's better I keep mum as I don't think anyone would want to speak to me. The topper (Ashok) should be on your (reporters') radar.”
Saturday, as it unfolded, would rank among Bhullar's worst days at the DLF Golf & Country Club. The leaderboard at the end of the penultimate day might not mirror the pangs of pain he experienced, but the after-effects of his first over-par round (73) of the tournament were etched on the chubby face.
The slip from the top spot by a rung might be nominal, but Bhullar's inability to sink the putts, despite a sound start, meant Ashok Kumar, with a consecutive 65, broke away and opened up a yawning eight-stroke lead to be placed at 16-under 200.
What would have hurt was, like Ashok, Bhullar hit the ball close but that's where the similarity ended. Proof lay in the three bogeys and double bogey that watered down the effect of the four birdies.
Armed with refitted clubs and a putter that responded perfectly to its master's call, Ashok had a picture perfect front nine that was studded with four birdies. The trend continued even after making the turn till the bogey on the 12th. Regaining the feel with his clubs acted as a potent weapon for Ashok, who, after shifting base to the Delhi Golf Club, has been nicknamed “Shok” by the pros there.
It was indeed a surprise of sorts as a belligerent Ashok continued to deal in birdies. Though a bogey occurred on the penultimate hole, he ensured it was an aberration by firing his third shot from 20 feet for an eagle on the 18th.
“My game and planning are on the right track but tomorrow is another day and the need is to ensure that I don't commit mistakes that I'll regret later,” said Ashok.