Flawless Bhullar in Joint Lead in Japan

Kobe (Japan), Sep 25 (IANS) India's rising golf star Gaganjeet Bhullar was the only player who enjoyed a bogey-free opening round at the Asia-Pacific Panasonic Open Friday as a sparkling four-under-par 67 gave him the joint lead with Korean S.K. Ho and Japan's Shintaro Kai and Kazuhiko Hosokawa.

The 21-year-old Indian produced four birdies at the challenging par-71 Rokko Kokusai Golf Club's East course to earn a chance of winning a third Asian Tour victory.

Of the other three Indians in the field, S.S.P. Chowrasia shot 71 to be placed 31st, while Anirban Lahiri and C. Muniyappa with 74 each were 61st.

Ho and Hosokawa, both with eight career victories in Japan and playing on invites this week, repaid the faith of the sponsors with strong starts in the approximately $1.7 million event co-sanctioned by the Japan Golf Tour and Asian Tour.

Title holder Daisuke Maruyama and Australia's Marcus Fraser, who is second on the Asian Tour's Order of Merit, were amongst in the chasing pack with 68s on a day of tough scoring.

Japan's number one Ryo Ishikawa, who attracted a large gallery, battled to a 69 which included six birdies while current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Noh Seung-yul of Korea returned a 70 in the tournament reduced to 54-holes after Thursday's cancellation due to poor weather.

Being the only man in the 132-man field to be blemish-free put a big smile on Bhular's face. His card included a brilliant run of three birdies on the trot from his third hole of the day (12 to 14 hole).

"It was quite a satisfying round because the layout is pretty tough, especially the rough. I stroked the ball really well and kept everything on the fairway. I just played sensibly and consistent golf," said Bhullar.

Starting from the 10th, he picked up three straight shots from the 12th hole, thanks to some solid attacking play. "I was a bit aggressive on those holes. I hit some brave shots," he said.

"With 54 holes, it changes things a bit. At the end of the day, you still have to play well, whether it's 72 holes or 108 holes. Tomorrow will be very important. I'm playing early tomorrow, so let's see what happens."




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