The muffled gasps around the scoring area, brought about by the day's lowest card, meant little as Mukesh Kumar's focus lay in gaining insight into Mardan Mamat's prolific run in the Panasonic Open. The 66 had lifted him seven spots to joint fourth and six shots off Mamat, but the craned neck and cupped hands, trying to catch the leader group approach the 18th green, were proof that the veteran's mind was elsewhere.
Eager to finish off the routine interaction, Mukesh quickly shared the effort put in at the practice green to get the back-lift right as the putter got to work. Satisfied with the result, he set a target of six-under, sans bogeys. Sound hitting ensuring the fairway shot found the green every time, it was a matter of re-enacting what he had perfected in the practice area. "It had to happen," Mukesh said in a matter-of-fact tone and pointed to the 40-foot chip for birdie on the 16th, and changed tack immediately.
"Mamat has been solid this week and a large chunk of the credit has to go to Ali Jaan (his caddy). His course knowledge is so sound and that's made the difference this week," he said in awe. That was indeed the case as finding the bushes thrice in a day is a recipe for disaster at the Delhi Golf Club, but the burly Singaporean came out unscathed.
Compared to the rounds of 67 and 65, Friday's 69 was a conservative result but Mamat was happy at the ability to not see beyond himself. "It's everything about me as I can't control the others." Making light of the missed short putts on the back-nine, which would have allowed him to swell the three-stroke lead over Anirban Lahiri, Mamat is hoping to "draw from the experience of being there", read the Indian Open win here in 2004.
Thursday's hiccups firmly behind him, Lahiri's body language told a different tale. "I shot four-under with 33 putts, and at the DGC that's fantastic," he said. Had it not been for the missed putts, caused by "misreads due to the way the grass is cut", the score could have been better.
But preferring to look at the positives, he said, "There was great ball-striking and I putted really well, all leading to a good score."