While descending on the DLF Golf and Country Club, a billboard caught the eye. Though the catch-line, "Leaders don't stop at one thing. They excel in many more," meant little at that early hour on Sunday, the words lingered in the mind and as time wore on, turned into an apt summary of the day's action.
The seasoned campaigner that he is, Jyoti Randhawa was acutely aware that going into the final day of the DLF Masters with a two-stroke lead was little insurance from turbulence. But he still preferred to follow the heart.
"I was feeling great during the morning's practice and by the time I left the range, confidence was sky high," were his words after sinking the key birdie on the par-five 18th. The last gasp effort not only guaranteed the top prize of Rs 12.93 lakh, it also snuffed out Mukesh Kumar's hopes of forcing a play-off.
If the slowness of the greens, after Europe, was a factor, the catch-me-if you-can game with Mukesh was another test of character and Randhawa, "driven by expectations", kept raising the bar for himself and prevailed by a stroke at eight-under. In fact, he was chasing another piece of history — of keeping intact his spotless record on the PGTI circuit.
Though the script did unfold the way he had hoped it would, a double bogey on the second once again raised eyebrows. Doubts on his focus were quickly dispelled. A birdie on the next and another on the ninth pulled things back.
As the challenge of overnight contenders Shamim Khan, Gaganjeet Bhullar and Arjun Singh wore off, Mukesh, who was in close vicinity of the leaders throughout, emerged as the main threat. Overnight fifth at two-under and five strokes behind Randhawa, a flurry of birdies on the front nine and at the start of the turn saw the Mhow golfer draw level at seven-under only to fall back on the 12th.
Not one to relent, Mukesh hit a birdie putt on the 15th, but the parity was not for long as Randhawa, playing in the last group, saved a shot on the 15th to be eight-under. With Mukesh playing par on the final three holes, the matter was as good as settled had it not been for the bogey on the penultimate, requiring Randhawa to show his mettle for the one last time on the 18th. Proving true to his billing, the champion delivered.
"Going into the final hole, I was nervous but I kept calm by telling myself that I possessed the game and the shots," said Randhawa. But despite the euphoria, he refused to lower the guard. "I hope this is a good return to form," he said, adding ground had to be covered before he could defend the Indian Open crown early next month.
The quote session over, Randhawa mopped his brow and took a step or two backwards, only to be mobbed for "autographs". As hugs were being exchanged, in the far corner of the open space sat the forlorn figure of Mukesh, frantically wiping mud off his cleats (golf shoes) and possibly the memories too of this outing.
280: Jyoti Randhawa (72, 68, 69, 71); 281: Mukesh Kumar (72, 72, 70, 67); 283: Ashok Kumar (72, 73, 70, 68); 286: Gaganjeet Bhullar (67, 72, 72, 75); Shamim Khan (72, 70, 69, 75).
Ashoke Kumar, Mukesh Kumar and Gagan Verma (amateur) won Sunday’s team championship with a net score of 133.