We’re still a month away from an event on the European mainland so, as the Tour continues to chase the sun, the roadshows stays in Asia for the Hero Indian Open.
Although this is the 52nd edition of India’s premier tournament, it’s only the second time the event has held European Tour status.
That doesn’t mean a shortage of course form however. The greenkeepers at Delhi Golf Club are kept busy as it stages at least two Asian Tour events each season.
The most recent was the Panasonic Open in November, an event being played at the course for the fifth straight year. It’s also been the venue for 11 of the last 13 Indian Opens and the SAIL Open (2010-2014).
Winners of previous events at Delhi Golf Club (last 5 years)
2015 Panasonic Open: 275 Chiragh Kumar
2015 Indian Open: 277 Anirban Lahiri
2014 Panasonic Open: 276 S.S.P. Chawrasia
2014 SAIL Open: 279 Rashid Khan
2013 Indian Open: 275 Siddikur Rahman
2013 Panasonic Open: 279 Wade Ormsby
2013 SAIL Open: 273 Anirban Lahiri
2012 Panasonic Open: 277 Digvijay Singh
2012 SAIL Open: 274 Anirban Lahiri
2011 Indian Open: 268 David Gleeson
2011 Panasonic Open: 275 Anirban Lahiri
2011 SAIL Open: 272 Kiradech Aphibarnrat
Previous course form certainly counted for plenty in this event last year with Anirban Lahiri and S.S.P. Chawrasia contesting a playoff. Lahiri was a three-time winner at Delhi GC while Chawrasia had landed the 2014 Panasonic Open just three months earlier.
Delhi Golf Club is a par 72 measuring just 6,983 yards off the tips. Designed by General J.H. Wilkinson in 1951 and redesigned by Peter Thomson across 1976/77, Delhi GC has Bermuda fairways and undulating Tifdwarf greens. The flat layout features bushes left and right of every fairway and Indian star Shiv Kapur gave this useful insight last year. “You hit very few drivers off the tee but lots of irons. It’s all about position off the tee so it’s not a bomber’s golf course. You need to be patient and bide your time.” Using local knowledge to read the greens was key last year with playoff pair Lahiri and Chawrasia finishing 1st and 2nd in the Putting Average stats.
This is India so warm and dry is very much the norm this week. Temperatures start in the high 80s on Thursday but rise to the early 90s on the weekend. Winds looks fairly modest.
The Leading Contenders
Lahiri landed his second European Tour win of 2015 and seventh Asian Tour title with victory last year. Most notably, it was his fourth win at the course! He had it all to do last year when starting the final round seven shots back but Lahiri held firm when others faltered. “It’s a childhood dream,” he said later. The Indian star has now established himself on the world stage with a top five at last summer’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits while, on the PGA TOUR this year, he’s posted top 40s at La Quinta, TPC Scottsdale, Torrey Pines and Doral. A deserved favorite, a fifth victory at Delhi GC is very much on the cards.
This is definitely a Marcus Fraser-type course and he held the lead on the back nine last year before faltering down the stretch and finishing third. The Aussie gave us the best possible example of how he can thrive on a short course where accuracy is needed when winning the Maybank Championship Malaysia last month. He followed it with T15 in Perth and even led after R1 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship before the big and lengthy Doral became too much for him. Back at Delhil GC, expect him to thrive once more.
It’s been an impressive start to the season for Luiten. He’s made five starts on the Race to Dubai, banking three top 10s and two other finishes in the top 15. That includes a pair of top fives, the most recent in Abu Dhabi at the end of January. He’s also pegged it up six times in India, posting T16 and T17 in two of the last three. His only start at Delhi ended in a missed cut but that was way back in 2008 so shouldn’t be a concern.
The Aussie arrives in India on the back of successive 7th places in the Perth International and the Tshwane Open while he’s 6-for-6 overall this season. He’s been in the money on two previous starts in India and took less putts than anyone else in the 2013 Avantha Masters. Some good recent putting stats suggest that he could shine on his first start at Delhi GC where prowess with the shortstick counts for plenty.
Three-time major winner Harrington is one of the star names this week and is in decent enough form having cashed in six of his seven PGA TOUR starts so far. The latest was a T33 at the Valspar where he battled well over the final 54 holes, shooting 71-71-70 in a tournament won with 7-under. This is his first start at Delhi Golf Club and, indeed, marks his debut in any Indian tournament. The feeling is that this brains not brawn course will suit him.
It’s becoming a little frustrating for the American, who has had to settle for fourth places in his last two events despite holding the halfway lead in Perth and 18-hole lead in Thailand. Then again, the plus side is that when you add those to a T9 in Malaysia he’s now reeled off three straight top 10s. A wrist injury continues to niggle him a bit but warm conditions should help. He’s played in India three times, finishing T57 at the Avantha Masters and taking T12 and T18 in the Gujarat Kensville Challenge on the second tier Challenge Tour.
The young Englishman has made a decent start to the 2016 Race to Dubai with a T7 in Qatar backed up by T21 in the Nedbank Golf Challenge and T15 at the Maybank Championship Malaysia on his last start. He has a strong record in Asia and that’s highlighted by two top 10s in three starts on Indian soil, the most recent when T9 in the 2013 Avantha Masters at Jaypee Greens. If his putter behaves, Fleetwood is one for the shortlist.
Put him on the right course and Hend can be a monster. He showed that by winning the True Thailand Classic last week (his eighth win in Asia) when big hitters dominated the leaderboard. He’d been runner-up there the year before. It’s a different story at Delhi GC though. With driver taken out of his hand, Hend’s powers are seriously reduced and that’s shown in his course form here. He’s had eight starts there with finishes of MC-42-43-27-MC-38-WD-19.
On his home course last week, Marksaeng closed with a 66 to post T14 at the True Thailand Classic. That followed a pair of T12s in his previous two Asian Tour events so the veteran’s form is very solid. Adding to his credentials is a third place in this event last year and a T10 in his previous start here (2010 Indian Open).
The Frenchman missed the cut in Thailand but did shoot a second-round 69 so it was down to a bad day at the office in round one. Before that he’d finished sixth in Perth and T15 in Malaysia so he’s in good nick. He made his debut at Delhi GC last year and took immediately to the course, shooting 67-68 on the weekend to finish T7.
T6 in Malaysia last time, Larrazabal is playing nicely. He’s 4-for-4 on the European Tour after cashing three times on the ‘Desert Swing’ where a T13 in Qatar was his best finish. The Spaniard was 7th for greens in regulation in Malaysia and has been in the top 10 for Putting Average in three of his last four events. Form figures of 17-5-18 on his last three starts in India add further encouragement although he shot 73-84 on his only ever start at Delhi GC in 2008.
The Next Rung
Back-to-back missed cuts in Malaysia and Perth would normally be a concern but Chawrasia is a different animal on his home Indian soil, especially at Delhi GC. His last five starts at the course have produced finishes of 2-1-4-2-5 and that includes a win at the 2014 Panasonic Open, his second success at Delhi GC following victory in the 2008 Indian Masters. Chawrasia was the 54-hole leader in this event last year before losing a playoff to compatriot Lahiri. Give this course horse huge respect this week.
Fisher, Jr. has four finishes of 26th or better from his six starts this year with a best of T8 at his home South African Open. He’s had a month off since missing the cut by some way at the Tshwane Open so will hope the batteries are recharged. He’s never played in India before.
One of the new breed of young Aussies making an early mark on this 2016 Race to Dubai. Scrivener is 7-for-7 and has already posted solo third in the Perth International and T12 in the South African Open. He had to settle for T54 in Thailand on Sunday although he did enjoy a hole-in-one on the opening day. This is his second look at Delhi GC after he carded four 72s last year to finish T45.
Since some strong performances in his native Scotland in the summer, Warren has rather fallen off the radar and a missed cut in Malaysia last month made it 14 events without even a top 30. He finally snapped that sequence with a T19 in Thailand last week so will hope to kick on again here. He’s 4-for-4 in India with a best of T29 while this is his first start at Delhi GC.
An opening 78 did for the Frenchman at last week’s True Thailand Classic but, if we forgive him that, there is plenty to like about Quesne’s chances. Prior to that early exit at Black Mountain he’d posted T9 at the Perth International and T4 in the Maybank Championship Malaysia. Talking of top 10s, he recorded one on his last start in India (2013 Avantha Masters) and was T17 on his previous visit.
One of the quiet stars of the ‘Desert Swing’ with a top five in Abu Dhabi and T8 in Dubai, Canizares then missed successive cuts in Malaysia and Australia before steadying the ship with a top 40 in Sunday’s True Thailand Classic. The Spaniard has played twice before in India and the first of those yielded a T10 at the 2012 Avantha Masters. A straight hitter, Canizares should enjoy this week’s test.
The German decorated his card in bogeys and doubles when missing the cut in the True Thailand Classic and also failed to boost his bank account on his previous start at the Dubai Desert Classic. But he did post T5 in Abu Dhabi and will have fond memories of his last trip to India when he finished runner-up at the 2012 Avantha Masters when topping the putting stats. One obvious comment is that, to get in the mix, he’ll need to find a lot more fairways than he has been.
Kieffer shot bookend 69s in Thailand last week but dipped badly in his middle rounds and had to settle for T57. It means, despite an ability to make lots and lots of cuts, he hasn’t had a top 10 since July. He was T23 in his only European Tour start in the country but delve a little deeper and you’ll find that he won the Challenge Tour’s Gujarat Kensville Challenge in India in 2012.
The Englishman missed the cut in this event last year and has finished down the field in his other three starts in India (48-41-57). In fact, you won’t find a single top 10 in his 23 starts in Asian Tour events, the run extended via a modest T54 in Thailand last week. He can suddenly get hot though and a T4 in Qatar was a recent reminder of the form he showed last summer when winning the Russian Open and finishing runner-up at the KLM Open in back-to-back weeks.
Singh returns home on the back of a first top 10 in three years, a T7 at the Thailand Classic. That followed seven missed cuts out of eight so appeared to come out of the blue. Don’t rule out another here as he was T24 in last year’s event and has five other finishes between second and ninth down the years. Encouragingly, he was 8th for GIR last week and 11th in Putting Average.
Hitting it straight will be no problem for Bhullar who topped the Driving Accuracy stats when T35 in Thailand. He split 94.6% of fairways and has now finished in the top two for DA in three of his last four events. He’s 3-for-3 on the European Tour this year and was T9 in the Bangladesh Open last month. Bhullar is also a former runner-up at Delhi GC (2012 Panasonic Open) although he did miss the cut in this tournament last year.
Kumar has to enter the conversation this week as he was the winner of the latest tournament to be played at Delhi GC, November’s Panasonic Open. That added to a previous second place there in the 2011 Indian Open. Kumar, who was T39 in this event last year, has been struggling in the early part of 2016 but gave his confidence a timely boost with a T19 in last week’s True Thailand Classic when shooting three 68s and a 76 (on the windy Saturday).
Who’s On The Team
It’s an obvious call but Anirban Lahiri is a four-time winner at Delhi GC and is now making his mark in America.
That puts him a class above almost everyone in this field so another home-soil win beckons.
Marcus Fraser is a great fit for this course and should challenge again while, at a much bigger price, look for Chiragh Kumar, who won the Panasonic Open on this course in November.
One To Swerve
Scott Hend did superbly well to focus down the stretch and win the True Thailand Classic on Sunday but admitted he felt tired after flying in from Florida. It may all catch up with him here on a course ill-suited to his game.