Ahmedabad, Jan 29 (PTI) Max Kieffer of Germany made his first-ever visit to India a memorable one by edging out Rahil Gangjee in the first play-off hole to win the Gujarat Kensville Challenge on Sunday.
At the beautiful but very demanding Kensville Course, which has been designed by Col KD Bagga and carries Jeev Milkha Singh`s signature, Gangjee (71) and Kieffer (70) finished the regulation four rounds tied at seven-under 281.
In the play-off, Kieffer`s drive went to the right of the fairway, just short of the bunker, but Gangjee`s went into the edge of the bunker.
Kieffer hit his second to the green to about 40 feet and Gangjee`s 5-iron second shot hit the lip of the bunker and bounced into the stream virtually ending his hopes.
Gangjee chipped his fourth to 20 feet, while two-putted for six. Kieffer safely two putted from 40 feet for par and won his maiden European Challenge Tour title.
Earlier with four holes to go, Gangjee was three clear of the field and seemed to have sewn up the title. But on the home stretch, Gangjee faltered and allowed Kieffer to come back. The young German grabbed his chance and got into a play-off and then won the title.
Gangjee (71), one clear of the field at the start ended regulation play, finished at seven-under 281, while Kieffer made up the one-shot deficit with which he had started. His 70 brought him to 281 and off they into the play-off.
It was a tense battle right till the end of regulation play after which Gangjee gave it was away with a shot that he would otherwise have accomplished 99 out of 100 times, a bunker shot from the edge, which in this case hit the lip and went into the stream ahead, dashing all his hopes of ending an eight-year title drought.
Kieffer won a cheque of Euros 32,000 which was presented to him by Sameer Sinha, Jaxay Shah and Jigesh Shah of the Savvy Group. Gangjee received Euros 22,000.
There was a three-way tie for third place with Paul Dwyer (68), Andreas Harto (71) and Callum MaCaullay (70) at five-under 283.
Gangjee`s second place was a big boost for Kensville Challenge, which in the previous year had provided an Indian winner in Gaganjeet Bhullar, who was tied 36th this time.
Shiv Kapur, who had shared the midway lead with Gangjee, shot 72 on the final day and ended tied ninth at one-under 287. The next best Indian was Ashok Kumar (74) at tied 28th and with him was Sri Lankan Mithun Perera (72), who plays mostly in India.
"The turning point was the 16th, where I missed a short one for bogey and Kieffer birdied. That gave him a two-shot swing and we were even. At some point when I was three ahead I did think the momentum was on my side and I could win, but Kieffer pulled off those two late birdies to get into play-off," said Gangjee.
"When I birdied 14 and got to nine under, I knew I was ahead of Max but he was not my point of focus because I did eventually look at the scoreboard but I knew there was somebody else who was six under. I was just going shot by shot."
On the play-off hole, he added, "I had enough club for the flag, I was going to try pitch it maybe 6-7 yards onto the green and because it was a five iron I was hoping it would run up, like what I did on the last hole of regular play, but it caught the lip."
"I have to thank Kensville because they gave me a spot to play here and it turned out pretty good. I wasn`t going to come here initially but after playing the Asian Tour qualifier I decided to come play here and hopefully make some money and go and spend it on travelling again I guess," said Gangjee.
Kieffer, who missed coming to India two years ago for the Bonallack Cup, an amateur event between Europe and Asia-Pacific teams, made his maiden trip a winning one.
"I was looking forward to India two years ago and then I turned professional. It was a tight finish and it really means a lot to me," said Kieffer.
Kieffer added, "This definitely sets me up for the season very nicely, it`s great to win the first tournament of the year and especially as the prize money is good."
Kieffer, 57th in the Challenge Tour Rankings last year, added, "Of course there were a few nerves on the inside, but I was delighted with how I coped mentally. Obviously when Rahil went into the water in the play-off I could afford to relax a little bit, but I still expected him to make a five so I had to concentrate."
"It was a great relief to roll my birdie putt close, and when Rahil missed his bogey putt, I knew the title was mine. It gives me a great chance to finish in the top 20 of the Rankings this year, but there?s still a very long way to go."
Gangjee played with Kieffer and Dodge Kemmer in the lead group. The Indian missed a couple of makeable birdie putts, but still parred his first seven holes. Kieffer, one behind, went two back with a bogey on fifth.
Meanwhile, Kemmer began unraveling with bogeys on fifth and sixth and another on eighth and then he ended all hopes with a double on ninth.
Kieffer roared back with birdies on sixth, seventh and ninth and suddenly the German was two ahead at the turn.
The see-saw battle continued as it was now Gangjee`s turn to bounce back with birdies on 10th and 11th and Kieffer dropped a shot on 10th to go six-under.
The pendulum swung once last time as Kieffer birdied the 14th and 16th while Gangjee bogeyed the 15th and 16th. It was once again all square at seven-under.