Ashok takes one-shot lead; Bhullar, Shankar in hot pursuit

New Delhi: Considered one of India`s most gifted golfers, Ashok Kumar on Saturday took a big step towards his breakthrough win as he took the sole lead at the end of the third round of the Panasonic Open India here.

Ashok rolled in a 15-footer on the 18th for a final birdie to card a second straight 69 and move to eight-under 208.

Ashok was atop a leaderboard that had a very Indian look to it, with two-time Asian Tour winner, Gaganjeet Bhullar, (70) one shot behind in second place at 209, and Shankar Das, (71) another one seeking his maiden Asian Tour win, third at 210. There were five Indians inside top seven places.

In the bunch at tied fourth, there were two more Indians, Digvijay Singh (68) and Manav Jaini (72), alongside overnight leader Bangladeshi Mohammad Siddikur Rahman (73) and Australian Wade Ormsby (71), who celebrated his 32nd birthday today.

Kunal Bhasin (68), an Australian of Indian origin, held the eighth place at 212, while American Ben Fox (69) and Irishman Niall Turner (71) completed the top ten.

More than a decade ago, the 28-year-old Ashok, first came to the Delhi Golf Club as a caddie and in the time since has won more than 20 times on the domestic Tour and even topped the Order of Merit more than once.

Six years ago he held a share of the lead going into the final round of the Aamby Valley Masters, but fell apart on the last day to end fifth.

Ashok, who topped the Asian Tour`s Greens in Regulation category last year, was on fire with his iron shots and missed only one green in regulation to take a one-shot lead over Bhullar.

"I`m not even going to think about the title. It is too far-fetch to think ahead now. I`m just going to concentrate on my own game and not the leaderboard," said Ashok.

"In the past, I`ve been aggressive on the final day but I`ve totally changed now and will play calmly. I will treat it like another day." he added.

Bhullar fired a 70 to lie in second place while Shankar Das ensured the top three spots were occupied by Indians in the penultimate round of the USD 300,000 event.

Ashok, who was tied second overnight, had a great birdie-birdie start. He was three-under after a third birdie on eighth. But he went way off the green on the ninth and then used a putter from the walking path and missed his par.

He was steady through the back nine with pars all the way till he got a last birdie on 18th from 15 feet.

Bhullar holed a huge 25-foot birdie putt on the sixth hole and hoped the experience of winning on the Asian Tour will guide him to a third victory.

"Mentally there is a bit of relief in my mind that I`ve won before. Winning a tournament in India on the Asian Tour is a big deal for an Indian because you are playing in front of friends and family. It will definitely give me a great sense of achievement," said Bhullar, whose last victory was in 2010.

SSP Chowrasia recovered from a potential disaster when he dropped six shots in three holes. After a birdie on first, he triple bogeyed the second, bogeyed the third and double bogeyed the fourth. He then had three birdies -- on sixth, 13th and 15th to finish with 74 and was tied 18th with Jyoti Randhawa (69), Shamim Khan (73) and Om Prakash Chouhan (70) at one-over 217.

Siddikur, the first Bangladeshi to play and win on the Asian Tour, rued a cold putter as he returned with three bogeys against two birdies, but he is still confident of making a final round title charge.

"My putting wasn`t good so I hope to get back on track. There`s a long way to go. I`m very confident for tomorrow. I feel I have a slight advantage because I`ve come close to winning on this course before," said Siddikur, who finished in fifth place at the SAIL-SBI Open at the same venue last month.

Ormsby, a former European Tour player, celebrated his birthday with a battling 71 to put himself in contention for a first Asian Tour victory. He was one-over after nine holes but bounced back with birdies on holes 14 and 18.