Rashid begins with sizzling 61

Rashid Khan began his 2014 Asian Tour season with a bang as he recorded a personal best of 11-under 61 in the opening round of the SAIL-SBI Open here on Wednesday.

Rashid’s first round exploits at his home course, the Delhi Golf Club, helped him establish a commanding five-stroke lead at the $300,000 event. Mithun Perera of Sri Lanka fired a six-under 66 to be tied second along with Japan’s Akinori Tani.

Bangladesh’s Siddikur returned a five-under 67 to occupy joint fourth place along with Scott Barr of Australia.

There were seven Indians among the 10 golfers in tied sixth place at 68. The seven Indians in tied sixth are Sanjay Kumar, C Muniyappa, Digvijay Singh, Shamim Khan, SSP Chowrasia, S Chikkarangappa S and Abhijit Singh Chadha.

Two-time defending champion Anirban Lahiri faltered on his back nine to bring home a card of 70, along with Mukesh Kumar to lie tied 21st. Among prominent names, Jyoti Randhawa, Manav Jaini, Rahil Gangjee and Himmat Rai -- all carded one-under 71 to lie tied 28th.

Rashid, the 2013 PGTI Order of Merit winner, was off to a flying start with four birdies on the front-nine. His solid hitting saw him land the ball within five to 10 feet of the pin on several occasions.

The 23-year-old went one better on the back-nine as he picked up an eagle on the 14th and posted five more birdies. Rashid sank a 20-footer for birdie on the 13th and followed that up with a 14-feet eagle putt on the par-5 14th. He thus ended up one short of the course record of 12-under 60 set by Liang Wen-Chong of China at the 2008 Indian Open.

“I didn’t leave myself too many long putts today as my hitting was spot-on,” said a delighted Rashid, who lost to compatriot Lahiri via play-off last year.

“I didn’t focus too much on the leaderboard and just played my game. I’m delighted to have improved on my previous single-round best of nine-under which I shot in Sri Lanka earlier this month.

“I made a few changes to my swing during the practice round on Monday under the guidance of my fellow professional and senior Ashok Kumar. The changes have helped me hit the fade shot a lot better.”

Perera, who fired an eagle at the eighth hole and birdies at 7, 9, 10, 13 and 18th holes, the only blot being the bogey at the 15th, said: “I came into the tournament supremely confident with two victories and then scored the best card here at DGC. So it was a good day.”

Leading scores (after 18 holes, Indians unless mentioned): 61: Rashid Khan; 66: Mithun Perera (SL), Akinori Tani (Jpn); 67: Scott Barr (Aus), Siddikur (Ban); 68: SSP Chowrasia, S Chikkarangappa, Sanjay Kumar, C Muniyappa, Steve Lewton (Eng), Angelo Que (Phi), Digvijay Singh, Shamim Khan, Kim Gi-Whan (Kor), George Gandranata (Ina), Abhijit Chadha.

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