Nakajima rules the course to build 4-shot lead; Veer stays best Indian at Hero Indian Open -

Nakajima rules the course to build 4-shot lead; Veer stays best Indian at Hero Indian Open

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Khel Today Bureau 

Gurugram: Japan’s Keita Nakajima may have fallen short of the pair of 65s that defined his first two rounds, but his 68 was good enough to double his lead in the USD 2.25 million Hero Indian Open from two to four shots after the third round at the DLF Golf & Country Club. He now has rounds of 65-65-68 for 18-under.

Nakajima, playing his rookie season on the DP World Tour is on his first visit to India, and is chased by the Malaysian Gavin Green, who was the runner-up at this event in 2017 and seeks to become the first Malaysian to win the Hero Indian Open. Green opened the week with a very modest 72, then shot 66 in the second round and simply flew past all but Nakajima with a 64 on the third round to get to tied second.

Sharing the second with Green was Frenchman Romain Langasque, whose 70 included a late double bogey on Par-3 16th. Green and Langasque are 14-under and lying in tied fourth is another Frenchman Jeong weon Ko (69) at 13-under with Matteo Manassero (70).

The top Indian among the eight who made the cut after the second round finished was Veer Ahlawat, who shot 69 for his third straight round in the 60s.

Ahlawat mixed five birdies with two dropped shots to give himself an outside chance in sole sixth place at 12-under par 204. He is six strokes behind leader Nakajima but the DLF Golf and Country Club is Ahlawat’s home course. Thus far he has made good use of his familiarity with the course and conditions to stay inside the top 10 for a second straight day on Saturday, capping his round with a closing birdie before a large gallery on his home track.

Fellow DLF golfer, Manu Gandas returned an incident-packed 2-under 70 for a share of 13th place on 8-under par 208 while Aman Raj was next best at 6-under par 210 with cards of 68-68-74. Raj was hit by a snowman eight on the Par-5 fourth and that proved costly as he slipped to Tied-24.

Said the newly-wedded Ahlawat later, “The highlight of the day for me was on the 18th in front of my home crowd. My wife, my mother-in-law, my father were all there.

“This being my home course helps. I mean I know which side of the green to miss if I miss it, so that I won’t drop a shot. It was a solid round. I hit the ball well, my putting was good. My bunker play was also in shape today. I started a little slow but finished on a high note. Tomorrow, I am going to try to stay focused, try to go low.”

Gandas, who had six birdies against four bogeys on Saturday said, “Today, I had some bad breaks along the way and some of the good putts that didn’t fall in, but overall it was a decent round.

“Home advantage definitely helps. I think we should be able to capitalise on it, just stick with the game plan that we already have and see how it ends. I would say my hitting and putting has not been very good, but I’ve been able to manage.”

Nakajima has been on top of the leader board since day one and followed up back-to-back 65s with a 68 to get to 18 under and match the biggest 54-hole lead of the season so far. Malaysia’s Gavin Green carded a brilliant, bogey-free 64 to sit at 14 under alongside Frenchman Romain Langasque, who signed for a 70.

Italian Matteo Manassero and France’s Jeong weon Ko were then five back but all eyes will be on Nakajima as he looks to claim the second wire-to-wire win of the 2024 campaign.

Nakajima seeking a first DP World Tour win in just his 11th start has four victories on the Japan Golf Tour, one of them as an amateur in 2021 during the record 87 weeks he spent at the top of the World Amateur Golf Ranking before becoming a pro.

Three victories in five months last year helped him top the Order of Merit on the Japan Golf Tour and earn his card on the DP World Tour, with his best result so far being fourth at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship. A win would make him the fifth Japanese winner in DP World Tour history and the third in just over six months.

“One more day,” he said. “I will try my best. Keep the same tempo, all the same, just keep going. I feel very confident in my game. My ball-striking and swing has been pretty good this week.

“I had great experiences in my amateur career, but I’m a professional now. I played the Japan Tour last year and a few other events where I played well, great experience. I’ll just keep going.”

Starting two shots behind Nakajima, Frenchman Langasque birdied the first from ten feet and that set up a fantastic nip-and-tuck battle between him and Nakajima over the front nine. Langasque had his chance when Nakajima bogeyed and he birdied the eighth, but on the back nine the Japanese star had three birdies against one bogey, but a late double on 16 and a bogey earlier meant Langasque shot 70 and fell four behind.

Green birdied the fifth and sixth and then chipped in for eagle at the eighth and made another birdie at the ninth to pick up five shots in as many holes and turn in 31. He then sandwiched a birdie on the 17th with gains on the par-five 15th and 18th to leap into contention.

Green said, “It was a solid round. Lots of fairways, gave myself lots of luck and made some putts. That’s the difference, you’ve got to hit fairways out here. It’s intimidating off the tee. I felt like today was a nice step in the right direction. It was just a solid day.”

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