“The day Mukesh Kumar stops playing to win, he will quit,” the veteran had announced after the opening round of the DDA Open. The hunger in place, it was focus that required urgent attention. “I'm finding it difficult to collect my thoughts, the mind's not on the game,” he had said.
Delving into the reservoir of experience, the Mhow pro was able to raise the level of attentiveness, but satisfaction remained out of reach.
Finishing two strokes shy of the summit on Friday, Mukesh knew he needed to strategise to buttress his wobbly confidence. Opportunity beckoned when Pappan and he came up with the day's best card. The result meant Mukesh had a chance to tee off with the leader group, but he chose otherwise. “I asked Pappan to submit his card first to allow myself some breathing space,” he said.
The pressure of playing in Saturday's top group off him, self-belief went up a couple of notches. Combining it with the desire on hand, Mukesh acquired what he had sorely missed — concentration.
As is the norm, the pins were tucked away and the contest at the Qutab Golf Course came down to the two safest players, Mukesh and overnight leader Vijay Kumar. It was a tooth-and-nail contest but staying in control of his game and nerves, Mukesh prevailed in the play-off to maintain his healthy record in sudden death.
But that wasn't the way the script was expected to unfold. Despite shrinkage in his two-stroke lead, Vijay teed off from the 14th a shot ahead. Making par from there on would have ensured the winner's cheque of Rs 3,23,300 but he floundered to rest with Mukesh at 12-under.
Re-establishing his supremacy with a birdie on the penultimate, the title was but a four-feet putt away. Call it anxiety or the fickle nature of the game, Vijay missed and the “finisher” in Mukesh took over.