Red-hot Sharmila shares lead with consistent Neha

Aditi stays in contention with 71

Having struggled in the opening leg last week to piece together the game that catapulted her to two successive Order of Merit crowns, defending champion Sharmila seemed to have done her homework on her putting, firing a brilliant three-under 69 to top a crowded leaderboard along with Kolkata sensation Neha at the Eagleton Golf Resort.

Delhi’s Nalini Singh Siwach carded a 70 to lie third while talented 13-year-old amateur Aditi Ashok matched veteran Smriti Mehra’s score of 71 to be played tied fourth on a largely humid day at a course that took a toll on the pros with its bumpy fairways.

“All the girls have made good improvement to their game and the competition has increased tremendously,” said Sharmila, the Karnataka Golf Association pro. “I knew I can’t take them lightly, so I’ve tried working hard on my game. I played well today and hope to open up a handy lead tomorrow.”

Early charge
Sharmila, who played with a much shorter putter than normal, kick-started her campaign in the best manner possible, picking up a shot with a fine chip-putt on the par-5 first. Thriving on the wider fairways, the 19-year-old drove superbly, getting to the greens with ease.

She sunk a five-footer for a birdie on the par-4 eighth to take the turn at two-under before dropping a shot on the 11th after she duffed her third shot on the greenside bunker. She made amends three holes later, birdieing from given before sinking another birdie on the 16th. The day could have belonged entirely to her had it not been for a few close misses, the ball stopping agonisingly on the edge of the cup on two occasions.

Neha, who scored a come-from-behind win in the opening leg last week, reeled off four birdies -- including a hat-trick (16, 17, 18) -- in a superb return journey to put herself in title contention again.

Leading scores (after 18 holes, ‘A’ denotes amateur): 69: Sharmila Nicollet, Neha Tripathi: 70: Nalini Singh Siwach; 71: Aditi Ashok (A), Smriti Mehra; 73: Saaniya Sharma; 74: Rani Sonti; 75: Meghna Bal; 77: Shraddhanjali Singh; 78: Preetinder Kaur.

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