BRILLIANT BAEK ON CUSP OF GLORY IN HERO HONDA INDIAN OPEN
New Delhi: Korean rookie Baek Seuk-hyun produced a spectacular finish to take a one-shot advantage after the third round of the Hero Honda Indian Open on Saturday.
The 20-year-old rookie enjoyed a stunning back nine, which included an eagle and four late birdies at the Delhi Golf Club, for a four-under-par 68 to lead from Sweden’s Rikard Karlberg, who also returned a 68.
Indian veteran Mukesh Kumar and unheralded Manav Jaini stayed in the title hunt with a 70 and 71 respectively to lie joint third, four behind, with Australia’s Unho Park (70) and South African Jbe Kruger (69) in the US$1.25 million Asian Tour event.
The tournament’s top draws, local hero Arjun Atwal and three-time champion Jyoti Randhawa, will enter the final day six shots off the pace but their hopes will come up against an inspired Baek.
The Thai-based Korean, who has a three-day total of 10-under-par 206, showed his mettle by fighting back superbly after he dropped three shots following his eagle on 11 when he holed out his approach from 152 yards.
“I was really excited. I played some bad shots on the 12th and 13th holes (for bogey and double bogey). But I came back with two birdies and then made a long birdie on 17 from 45 feet and another good birdie on the last. I’m happy,” said Baek, whose best finish was tied 10th in last week’s King’s Cup in Thailand.
“It’s only a one-shot lead. I know I will be nervous tomorrow but I’ll concentrate on my own game and not look at the crowds. Today, I just kept hitting my shots and didn’t think of anything and before I knew it, I was on the last hole. I think that’s the best way to play.”
Opting to leave his driver in the hotel room to negotiate the tight Delhi course, Baek turned in 35 with two birdies and a bogey before lighting up his back nine with the eagle on 11. “I hit the perfect tee shot and approach shot. I couldn’t see the pin and the crowds started cheering. I was just hoping it was near the hole. It was really exciting,” he said.
Qualifying School graduate Karlberg, who won the SAIL Open at the Delhi course earlier this season, put himself in position for a unique double after fighting back from two early bogeys with six birdies.
“I got off to a bad start but after that I started to find my way back. I had a good streak with good shots and easy birdies from holes six to nine. Today I committed to shots much better and that was the difference to help me finish one shot better.
“I like it here and I showed today that even after a bad start I can come back,” said the Swede, currently third on the Order of Merit.
The slightly built Kruger, who has three runner-up finishes this season including in Thailand last week, fired two eagles on the card but was disappointed to drop a bogey on the last hole.
“I was probably not thinking on the last hole! I wanted to hit a little fade on the second shot but pulled it a fraction. The ball was sitting down in the rough and I literally duffed it,” he said.
“I think it’s all about the final nine holes tomorrow. I’m really trying. I got fortunate on 15 when I hit it on the green to make eagle from 15 feet. On eight, I got it to six feet with a rescue club for the eagle putt,” said the South African.
At 45 years of age, Mukesh knows this was possibly his last chance to finally win a Hero Honda Indian Open title although he will need a herculean effort to overturn a four-shot deficit.
“I’ve won everything in India but not the Open and this is something which is lacking in my career,” said Mukesh, who has won over 100 domestic titles. “I have to make the most of this opportunity as it could be my last chance. I have to putt well tomorrow. If I putt good, then I know I can win the tournament.
Leading third round scores
206 - Baek Seuk-hyun (KOR) 68-70-68
207 - Rikard Karlberg (SWE) 70-69-68
210 - Manav Jaini (IND) 70-69-71, Mukesh Kumar (IND) 70-70-70, Unho Park (AUS) 72-68-70, Jbe Kruger (RSA) 68-73-69
211 - Ben Fox (USA) 70-69-72, Anthony Kang (USA) 72-67-72, Mark Foster (ENG) 72-69-70, Marcus Both (AUS) 68-74-69, Siddikur (BAN) 72-72-67
212 - Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA) 70-70-72, Thaworn Wiratchant (THA) 71-70-71, Kim Hyung-sung (KOR) 67-74-71, Ashok Kumar (IND) 69-73-70, Peter Karmis (RSA) 72-70-70, Arjun Atwal (IND) 73-69-70, Jyoti Randhawa (IND) 72-71-69, Kenichi Kuboya (JPN) 72-72-68
213 - Namchoak Tantipokakul (THA) 68-72-73, Shiv Kapur (IND) 71-73-69
Asian Tour GolfGreedy,com