Europeans James Morrison and Richie Ramsay revelled in benign conditions to share the opening-round honours while seasoned campaigner Shiv Kapur led the Indian challenge with a sparkling performance in the Hero Indian Open here on Thursday.
Morrison and Ramsay, who are the marquee European players along with Ryder Cup winning player Peter Hanson, shot five-under 66 each at the Karnataka Golf Association to steer one-shot clear off a jam-packed leaderboard on a glorious day for golfing.
Chasing his first Asian Tour title in seven years, the ever-smiling Kapur dished out a fine display to grab a share of the third place along with six others at 67 while title favourite Gaganjeet Bhullar kept himself in the hunt after carding a 68, a score matched by compatriot Shankar Das.
Anirban Lahiri and C Muniyappa disappointed on the first day with the former stitching together a fighting 71 and the latter clearly struggling with the recurrence of his back injury, salvaging a 78 that might take him out of the weekend action.
On Tuesday, Kapur, who has not been able to replicate his 2005 heroics when he won his only Asian Tour title that also fetched him the Rookie of the Year award, had spoken about how playing the Indian Open in Delhi always affected his game due to the huge pressure of being at his home course and the expectations that come along with it.
On Thursday, a vast contingent followed the exploits of Lahiri, Bhullar and Peter Hanson, who were bunched together. Away from the spotlight and given the freedom and space, the 30-year-old Kapur expressed himself brilliantly in balmy afternoon sunshine, matching playing partner Ramsay stroke for stroke.
Striking the ball beautifully, the Delhiite kept attacking the pins regularly and rarely missed them, often finding himself within birdie chances. The only letdown was the missed opportunities on a few holes that would have seen him take the runaway lead.
After bogeying the third hole, Kapur quickly negated it with a six-foot birdie on the very next hole before picking up another shot on the sixth with a simple two-footer putt.
He then sunk birdies on the 12th and 15th holes -- both set up by good approach shots -- before ending the day on a resounding note with a birdie on the 18th hole.
In contrast, Bhullar was pretty ordinary with the hitting but solid with his short game, helping him stay within touching distance of the leaders. The Kapurthala pro opened his campaign in superb fashion, sinking a birdie on the par-3 opening hole that was met by loud cheers.
He tuned up his ignition further with a 25-footer birdie on the third but after that it was all about saving pars, especially on the fourth and seventh, which he did with some nerveless putting. On the fourth he chipped from the greenside bunker and sunk a fine 30-footer for par before rescuing himself with a 11-footer putt on the seventh.
Bhullar found his third birdie on the 11th and after five consecutive pars, had two great chances to end the day as joint leader. However, his putter turned cold just at the wrong time, the 24-year-old missing decent birdie opportunities on the 17th and 18th.
Meanwhile, Morrison and Ramsay were solid from the onset, thriving on a course that suited their style. Morrison, a 10th tee starter, took off with a birdie on the 11th before going even with a bogey on the 15th. However, he picked up two shots just around the turn, dropped one on the third hole before firing another couple of birdies and an eagle. Ramsay covered the front nine in one-under -- an eagle on the fifth and bogey on the ninth – before stepping on the gas in his inward journey, firing out four birdies to join Morrison at the top.Leading scores
(After 18 holes, ‘A’ denotes amateur)
66: James Morrison (Eng), Richie Ramsay (Sco); 67: Javi Colomo (Esp), Shiv Kapur (Ind), Zaw Moe (Myn), Panuphol Pittayarat (Tha), Kalle Samooja (Fin), Jaakko Makitalo (Fin), Chapchai Nirat (Tha); 68: Shankar Das (Ind), Gaganjeet Bhullar (Ind), Angelo Que (Phi), Jason Knutzon (US); 69: Jonathon Moore (US), Namchok Tantipokhakul (Tha), Harendra P Gupta (Ind), Honey Baisoya (A) (Ind), Chiragh Kumar (Ind), Jarno Sandelin (Swe), Thaworn Wiratchant (Tha), Mardan Mamat (Sin).
Other Indians: 70: Himmat Rai, Anirban Lahiri; 71: Ajeetesh Sandhu, Ashok Kumar.