Smriti rallies to emerge champ

Veteran Smriti Mehra doused young Sharmila Nicollet’s early firestorm with a measured performance to score a come-from-behind victory in the second leg of the Hero-WGAI Women’s Pro Tour near here on Thursday.

After oscillating from the brilliant to the ordinary over the previous two days, Smriti found the much-needed consistency in the most important round, firing the tournament’s best card of four-under 66 to total 207 and pip Sharmila (70) by two shots at the Clover Greens.

Nalini Singh Siwach shot a 71 to sign off third at 211 while Bangalore’s Ankita Kedlaya (216) took home the best amateur award after carding a final-round 69 on a cool and cloudy day that made conditions ideal for golfing.

A veteran of many a battle during her 17-year long career, Smriti knew she had a scrap on her hands when overnight leader Sharmila set the ball rolling with a hat-trick of birdies from the opening hole. But, that’s when Sharmila’s game began to desert her even as Smriti settled into a wonderful rhythm.

Driving, chipping and putting beautifully, 40-year-old Smriti just kept coming at Sharmila, making the best of the local pro’s short game travails that started on the fourth and never ceased until the end. Birdies on the third, sixth and seventh -- she had a bogey on the fourth -- helped her cut down the lead to just one after Sharmila double-bogeyed the par-4 fifth, three-putting from 20 feet.

Things then took a dramatic turn on the 12th when Sharmila dropped a shot and Smriti nailed a brilliant birdie to inch one stroke ahead. Generally strong on the par-fives, Sharmila’s inaccurate second shot landed the ball on the slope around the greens. She then duffed her third shot before salvaging a bogey while Smriti grabbed the opportunity with both hands, draining a birdie after missing an eagle by just a whisker.

With nothing working right for Sharmila, whose chipping and putting just failed to click, Smriti kept going steady, without trying anything fancy. She then sealed her title with birdies on the 16th and 17th, a closing bogey just a minor blip in an otherwise vintage show.

“I just played my own game without worrying about the leaderboard,” said a delighted Smriti. “I started slowly but found my range as the round progressed. Anything’s possible in golf and I knew if I play well, I would stand a chance in the end.”

Leading scores (after 54 holes, ‘A’ denotes amateur): 207: Smriti Mehra (69, 72, 66); 209: Sharmila Nicollet (71, 68, 70); 211: Nalini Singh Siwach (72, 68, 71); 214: Neha Tripathi (71, 72, 71); 216: Ankita Kedlaya (A) (75, 72, 69); 220: Vani Kapoor (76, 76, 68), Shraddhanjali Singh (74, 74, 72); 221: Saaniya Sharma (71, 77, 73); 225: Meghna Bal (71, 80, 74); 226: Ankita Tiwana (78, 73, 75).

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