The response was a faint smile when an acquaintance congratulated Gaurav Pratap Singh with the words: “You nearly sank our hearts.” Watching the 25-year-old almost throw it away with back-to-back bogeys on the 17th and 18th, the elderly gentleman may have skipped a few beats but the champion was clear as he strove to tide over the damage. “I told myself, come what may I won’t give it away.”
Starting with a five-shot lead over Vijay Kumar, and the script unfolding along predictable lines till well into the back nine, not many would have bargained for the thrills and spills that lay ahead. Not only Gaurav, who won by a wafer-thin margin, Vijay and Gaurav Ghei too contributed towards spicing up the final moments of the ONGC Masters.
Gaurav’s back nine was the worst amongst the three --- three bogeys outstripping the lone birdie on the 14th. The sport’s fickleness had come into play and the Noida Golf Course was abuzz with talk of a possible upset. Picking up shots on the 10th, 13th and 17th meant Ghei lined up for the final tee-off a stroke shy of the leader. Call it pressure or the inability to “read the wind”, the veteran double-bogeyed the par-4 and slipped to third.
Recovering from a double bogey on the 10th, Vijay stayed within sniffing distance by picking up shots regularly. Landing the ball about 25 feet from the target on the 18th, Vijay, two short of Gaurav, gave himself a birdie opportunity. The driver not responding to Gaurav’s call --- he was hitting it to the left --- triggered off murmurs of a play-off. But they soon subsided when Vijay’s putt settled on the lip.
Starting Saturday with another 70 in mind, the 75 didn’t enthuse Gaurav, but he settled for it.