In the midst of journeymen, the elderly gentleman held court. Gesturing vigourously from the clubhouse, he was pointing out the ‘deficiencies’ of the course, be it with the layout or quality of grass.
The verdict at the end of the protracted discussion may not have been flattering, but it was of little consequence, at least for the man who broke a voodoo of sorts here. During the considerable years spent as a pro, Mukesh Kumar had never managed a top-10 finish at the Golden Greens Golf and Country. For the domestic circuit’s Mr. Consistent, it was a blot. But it got washed on Friday, and how.
The top spot at the Solaris Chemtech Open not only broke a six-month title drought, the high had the man mouthing a warning, "Watch out for me in the SAIL Open (the Asian Tour event is in March)."
The putter responding perfectly to its master, the two-stroke lead on the final day was always going to weigh heavy. Planning his game well while keeping an eye on the rest of the leader group, Mukesh's vice-like grip snuffed out all interest by making it a one-horse race.
"I knew Rahil (Gangjee) could challenge me. So, while concentrating on my game, I kept an eye on him. Whatever he did, my reaction was better. Besides, he erred by attacking," he said.
Even as his rivals floundered, Mukesh, armed with his brother's putting tips, went about the task with precision and the three birdies and an eagle on the 9th had assured him of the winner’s cheque of Rs 4,84,950. Bogeys on 12th and 15th did slacken the pace somewhat but by that time the five-stroke lead had turned insurmountable.
Interest, if any, lay in the tussle for the runner-up spot. Gangjee’s birdies at the right time ensured that M. Dharma fell short of his 11-under 277 by a stroke.
Another factor going Mukesh’s way here was his coming to terms with the gear. "I've been using the Titleist APII clubs for six months, but it's only now that I've got used to them."
Drawing himself close, he whispered, "The clubs aside, the slowness of the greens on the first three days suited me."
272: Mukesh Kumar (68, 70, 67, 67); 277: Rahil Gangjee (71, 72, 65, 69); 278: M. Dharma (67, 69, 74, 68); 280: Anirban Lahiri (70, 68, 73, 69); 282: Arjun Singh (67, 70, 71, 74)