For Mukesh Kumar to squander his three-stroke lead going into the final round of the Aircel Players Championship at the par-70 Tolly Club course on Friday, either he had to play exceptionally poorly or his nearest rivals had to do something special.
Playing safe golf with clinical precision and showing unwavering professionalism, the man with countless titles on the Indian pro tour dismissed the first possibility by consistently saving par on the front nine with a solitary birdie.
Needing a good start to make a match of it, Manav Jaini suffered two early bogeys instead, including one on the par-three sixth where he had a hole-in-one in the first round.
Mukesh killed the contest by birdying the par-five seventh to open up a six-stroke lead and went on to win the title by the same margin after a round of 68 which gave him a tally of 12-under.
For all practical purposes, it became a fight for the second place between Jaini and Anthony Paul Choat thereon and despite not having the best of days, the former cared a one-over for a career-best finish. The Australian missed some putts agonisingly close to end with one-over for a share of the third spot.
It was a career-best finish for Choat too, in his second year on the Professional Golf Tour of India. There was a sense of inevitability about Mukesh’s victory. Knowing that the onus was on others to play aggressively and catch up with him, he didn’t hit the ball as well as he had in the third round, but played effective second or third shots whenever there was a hint of trouble. That he didn’t miss any short putt was a major reason behind his second successive bogey-free round.
The closest things became was on the par-five 13th which Jaini birdied to move to seven-under.
Mukesh was 11-under and in danger of dropping a shot which would have reduced the gap to three with five holes remaining. Playing unspectacular golf till then, Mukesh pulled off an immaculate downhill putt from over 20 feet to save par.