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Venue, weather are the X-factors

New Delhi: A spruced up DLF Golf and Country Club course is set to welcome former winner Anirban Lahiri, world number 26 Rafa Cabrera-Bello, defending champion S.S.P. Chawrasia and a host of other potential titleists to the $1.75 million Hero Indian Open that gets under way on Thursday.

With unsettled weather predicted over the weekend, it promises to be among the most open of Indian Opens for some time. The fairways are lush and the greens lightning fast and for once, the sizeable home contingent starts with no advantage of familiarity, which was not the case at the Delhi Golf Club, for years home to the tournament.

“It’s going to be a challenge for sure,” Lahiri said on Wednesday. “I mean it’s not something that you come across very often. I would say there are two factors that would be interesting to see. One is how they set up the golf course. Pace of play is going to be a concern and if it gets windy it’s going to be extremely hard.

“ I think it’s a blank sheet for everyone. Nobody really know what to expect. The dynamics are very different from DGC, which has been the home of the Indian Open for many years. You do need length, to be able to control the all in the wind. You need to be able to shape it, because if it’s going to blow 20-30km an hour with side winds.

“It’s going to need a lot more versatility. It’s a ball-striker’s golf course. It’s not necessarily a European’s or Indian’s or American’s golf course. Anybody who can strike the ball well will have a good chance this week.”

The 29-year-old has his sights set on an eighth Asian Tour title, which will help him achieve some immediate goals, which include qualifying for the WGC-Dell Match Play in two weeks’ time and enhancing his hopes of getting into the year’s opening Major, the Augusta Masters next month.

Given his tenacity, defending champion Chawrasia can never be ruled out. He has won here in the past, but it was a very different course back in 2011 when he lifted the Avantha Masters. The Gary Player design will demand a lot more, and not from just Chawrasia, but as Lahiri put it, “He is really gritty, he’s like a bulldog. He gets in there and he doesn’t let go.” Tenacity and control will be the watchwords over the next four days for the 144-strong field. And familiarity alone makes course regular Shubhankar Sharma a contender.

How Sharma copes with the task of keeping up with a classy entry list will be keenly watched as he and Chikkarangappa S. — lead member of the winning Pro-Am team on the day — are the arrowhead of Indian golf’s next wave. It could well be that their time has come.

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