Rookie Khalin Joshi and Rashid Khan, who has virtually grown up at the Delhi Golf Club held the spotlight as the SAIL-SBI Open presented by Incredible India, Ministry of Tourism reached the halfway stage on Thursday.
Joshi followed up his first 66 with a steady three-under-par 69 to take the lead at the end of the second round. As the sun set down on the DGC, Joshi was joined in the lead by American-Korean Chan Kim (67-68), who finished with a flourish, with four birdies in a row over the last four holes.
Joshi and Kim were one shot ahead of Rashid (72-64) and Bangladeshi Siddikur (68-68), while there was a big bunch at six-under and five-under. Siddikur, second at SAIL-SBI Open in 2011 was second again at Panasonic Open in 2012, is looking at improving that to the top spot.
Big-hitting Rahil Gangjee, whose sole win on Asian tour came in 2004, the year Asian Tour was established, landed two brilliant eagles – one with a putt from 30 feet and another from 45 feet - enroute to a 66 that brought him to a total of seven-under and fifth place.
The 20-year-old Joshi, making his professional debut on the Asian Tour, chipped in for an eagle on 14 to go with two birdies and one bogey. Joshi, India's number one ranked amateur last year, has not shown any fear to lead a strong field at the challenging Delhi Golf Club. He turned in 36 with a birdie on the first being offset by a bogey on eight before producing the shot of the round with an exquisite chip-in eagle on 14. He rolled in a six-footer at the last and celebrated with a clenched fist.
"I hit the ball good although my putting wasn't great. I holed a chip on the 14th for eagle so that was good. Honestly, I felt normal. I didn't feel any pressure. I just wanted to go out there and do the best that I could. Conditions were a bit easier, not much wind compared to yesterday but the flags were a bit tougher," said Joshi.
A strong finish this week, or even a win, could make up for his disappointment of not earning his Asian Tour card through Qualifying School in Thailand in January.
"I'm looking forward to the next two days. It’s a good position to be in. I just want to do the same thing. If the putter is hot, I know I'll do something. I'm not looking at the scoreboard as it’ll put pressure on myself. I’m not going to look at any scores. I just want to go out to play," he said.
Kim, who won the Asian Tour Qualifying School this year said, "I finished with four straight birdies and definitely wasn’t expecting it. I made the turn in one under and thought if I could birdie the two par fives on the back nine, that would be fine. I was even par on 13 and knew I had to get something going. Hit two solid shots on 13 but made par and then on 14, hit a good wedge shot but missed the putt."
Talking of his finish, he added, "Standing on 15, I wanted to be aggressive but you can't be greedy out here. I took a club less and hit the fairway and made birdie and sort of carried the momentum from there. On, 15, I had a five footer straight up the hill. I hit it to six feet on 16 and made the left to right slider. On 17, made another six-footer from left to right and on 18, made a four footer straight up the hill. 16 and 17 were good putts, I had to trust the lines and luckily they were the right lines.
"When I made the first two birdies on 15 and 16, I thought to myself “I’m seven under and I was two back." If I could make one or two birdies coming in, I would be right in there."
Meanwhile Rashid, No. 2 on the Indian PGTI in 2012, atoned for his modest even par 72 of first day with his best-ever round at his home course in the second round. At eighth-under through 36 holes, he is one behind Kim and Joshi, with whom he has played a lot of amateur golf.
Rashid zoomed up the leaderboard with nine birdies, three of them in a row on his last three holes. He had just one bogey on the 13th, his fourth hole of the day after starting at the tenth.
The strength of Indian golf is on full display this week with title holder Anirban Lahiri getting into the title mix with a solid 68 which left him four shots back with two rounds to go.
Rashid was particularly pleased with his finish. "The three in a row was a nice feeling. I hit my irons very well and the longest putt I needed was 20 feet on 12th and 14th. Rest of them were inside eight feet."
Talking of his round, Rashid said, "I have played a lot of golf here. But the best I had as an amateur was six-under and then I shot seven-under at BILT, where I lost the play-off to Shamim Khan. Now it is eight-under, so it feels good. I am not putting any pressure on myself and just playing my natural game."
Lahiri, who claimed his second Asian Tour victory at last year's SAIL-SBI Open, showed he wasn't about to surrender his title without a fight. He sank seven birdies but dropped three bogeys.
"I don't think I hit it as good as yesterday. It was a mixed bag, a few bad shots and a lot of good ones. I was happy that I managed to make a couple of putts. I think I’m getting better as the week has gone by. The course is a lot easier to play in the morning, which is a huge difference. It was nice to have receptive greens and the ball was rolling on the greens," said the 25-year-old Lahiri.