Nakajima holds 2-shot lead, Ahlawat top Indian as rain stops play at Hero Indian Open -
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Nakajima holds 2-shot lead, Ahlawat top Indian as rain stops play at Hero Indian Open

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Keita Nakajima. 

Khel Today Bureau 

Gurugram: Keita Nakajima of Japan, playing his rookie season was in sight of his maiden DP World Tour title as he shot a second straight 65 to get to 14-under and grab the sole lead at Hero Indian Open.

When play was suspended on Friday afternoon at DLF Golf and Country Club due to lightning, Nakajima was in the clubhouse with a two-shot lead over Frenchman Romain Langasque, who has a pair of 66s, and a resurgent Italian Matteo Manassero (65-68) at 11-under.

Lying in Tied fourth was Frenchman Jeong weon Ko (67-67) at 10-under along with overnight co-leader Joost Luiten of Netherlands, who has three more holes to go in the second round.

Veer Ahlawat. 

Veer Ahlawat (69-66) was the top Indian in sole sixth at nine-under, five shots behind the event leader Nakajima.

When the play was called off in the evening due to lightning in the area, 46 players were still to complete their second rounds. The list included Aman Raj, who was 3-under through 13 holes today, at 7-under overall in shared eighth place.

DLF golfer Manu Gandas (73-65) fired a sizzling 7-under 65 today after a 1-over 73 on the first day. He is now 6-under and in Tied 16th place. Chandigarh’s Karandeep Kochhar (68-70) was also tied for 16th at 6 under 136 having completed their rounds for the day.

Gaganjeet Bhullar (70-69) was tied 22nd on 5-under 139 while Rashid Khan (71-69) and Shubhankar Sharma (70 and 2-under through 16) were at 4-under.

Ahlawat’s round included an eagle on his 13th hole, the par-five fourth as he started from the back nine today. For his eagle, he found the green from 260 yards with his 3-hybrid and converted a 10-foot putt. He said, “I started a little slow, but then I holed a few good putts after that and I got the momentum after holing the putt on the 17th, which was my eighth hole today. So, that really helped.”

“The wind is really less this year and the greens are really soft. So, even if you end up missing it on the wrong side, you still have a chance to make a par if you hit a good chip.” Nakajima, who spent a record 87 weeks at Number One on the World Amateur Golf Rankings before turning professional two years ago, shot 65 despite three bogeys on the trot between the 14th and the 16th, but closed with a birdie-eagle. His 14-under total for 36 holes is equal to the lowest winning total of 14-under achieved by Marcel Siem last year. Siem was unable to defend his title because of an injury.

Nakajima, who played at three Majors in 2022 before turning pro on the strength of winning the Asia Pacific Amateur Championships in 2021, has won four times on the Japan Tour, including once as an amateur. He also topped the Japan Tour Money list in 2023, which earned him a card on the DP World Tour this season.

The 23-year-old went six strokes clear of the field with seven birdies in his first 11 holes. Then he had inexplicable run of three bogeys from the 14th, but he fought back to finish birdie-eagle on the difficult 17th and 18th holes, the closing holes of the DLF Golf and Country Club.

Nakajima said, “I had a good par on two and three, then birdies on four, five, six, seven and eight. That was fun, I was excited. Birdie on 17 was so big for me because I made three bogeys in a row before that, and (then) a good eagle finish. They are tough holes, but it’s fun. I enjoyed it.”

“The back nine is more tricky. On the front nine, you can be more aggressive; I like the tee shots and greens on the front nine. Two more days and I’ll try and do my best. I’m comfortable (at the top of the leaderboard). I’m looking forward to two more rounds.”

Langasque matched his six-under par first round 66 to move to 12 under. Starting from the tenth, he had an birdie-eagle on the seventh and eighth, his 16th and 17th holes of the day.

Langasque sits one stroke ahead of Manassero, who is bidding for a second victory in the space of a month. Earlier this month Manassero won Jonsson Workwear Open in South Africa. Manassero, whose first three DPWT wins came when he was still in his teens, won a fourth title in 2013 but was then winless till the success in South Africa.

He three birdies and two eagles, including a hole out with a wedge from 152 metres on the par four 17th. He also dropped a double on the 18th, his ninth hole of the day.

Norwegian Espen Kofstad, who had booked his ticket home for Saturday after a first round 81, shot a new course record of 10-under 62 and should make the cut at 1-under. He said, “Well, I’m still shaking a little bit. I mean today was just unbelievable. Everything came off and I’ve pulled so many putts I have no idea how many feet I’ve pulled, but it’s been quite the day. I changed my flights last night to go home tomorrow. So I’m gonna have to change them again.”

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