Gaganjeet Bhullar turned in yet another steady round of 3-under 69 on Saturday, the traditional moving day, to overturn a 6-shot deficit into a one-shot lead on a blustery day at the Fiji International presented by Fiji Airways.
The 30-year-old Bhullar moved to 8-under and sole lead with Terry Pilkadaris (71), Andrew Dodt (72), Jarryd Felton (71) and Jake McLeod (70), who is yet to taste a win as a professional.
Overnight leader Ben Campbell had a major meltdown dropping four shots between fourth and eighth followed by a double on 16th and a bogey on 17th. His 5-over 77 saw him slip to fifth, but is only two behind the new leader Bhullar and one behind the second placed bunch of four.
Ajeetesh Sandhu, the only other Indian to have made the cut, shot 72 with one birdie, one eagle, one bogey and one double bogey.
On Sunday, Bhullar despite being only one shot ahead, will start as the big favourite as the collective Asian Tour wins of his four closest pursuers are fewer than his eight on the Asian Tour. But in a close contest like this no one within four or five shots can be ruled out, especially if the wind is up on the final day.
Pilkadaris has two wins, the last of which came in 2005, while Dodt has won once each in 2010 and 2016. McLeod has never won a pro, while Felton, too has none on Asian Tour, but two on Australasian Tour.
Bhullar has been in great form, with three Top-10 finishes in last four starts – the fourth was T-11. His latest win in Macao last October also came in windy conditions and Bhullar admitted to good memories.
He said, “It's never easy to play in this kind of situations, but I remember the last tournament I won was in Macau and it was really, really windy. So of course I do have a lot of positive memories playing in this kind of situation.”
On Saturday, Bhullar was six behind at the start, but he got off to a hot start with birdies on first two holes to close the gap between him and Campbell, whose birdie on third kept the distance to five shots. Then came Campbell’s nightmarish stretch of four bogeys in five holes. Bhullar meanwhile was moving up and he first got a share of the lead with Dodt with a birdie on 12th. Another birdie on 17th gave him sole lead as others failed to catch up.
The steady Bhullar was successful in staving off danger by saving some great pars. The others did get birdies but they also dropped shots.
Bhullar added, "I had a great start to the day. I started with two good birdies and then I kept on hitting the ball really well and the ball was in play throughout the round. Today my striking was really, really good. Despite the windy conditions, I kept the ball in play, and I holed a lot of really tricky putts today. Like the par save on No. 9 and No. 10, that were basically the game changers today. It wasn't an easy round of golf today. Wind was howling, it was gusty, especially on the back nine.”
On the plan for Sunday, Bhullar said, “You just have to stick to your own routine and the process. I think that's going to be my game plan tomorrow. 14 fairways, 18 greens and if I can do that, definitely I'll be on the top.”
South Africa’s Ernie Els, a four-time Major champion, had a superb round of a 69 to haul himself back into contention and at 5-under he is seventh and only three behind leader Bhullar.
Another man who cannot be counted out is Justin Harding (72), the hottest player in Asia with two wins in as many starts, is currently T-11 at 3-under. Harding has won his first two starts on Asian Tour in last three weeks. In last eight starts – in Asia and Africa - Harding has four wins, three Top-6s and a T-18.
About the Author
V Krishnaswamy is India's most widely travelled journalist. He has covered more than 20 Majors, Presidents Cup, EurAsia Cup and more than 120 international golf tournaments around the world. He has also covered seven Olympic Games, 8 Asian Games and 6 Commonwealth Games besides numerous World Championships in various sports.