Macau: He may be away from home for Diwali, but Anirban Lahiri ensured a fine celebration with fireworks at the Macau Golf and Country Club, where he shot a magnificent bogey-free 10-under-par 61 to take lead at the Venetian Macau Open, here on Thursday.
He was one shot clear of the in-form defending champion Scott Hend of Australia.
After eight birdies, four on either side of the course, Lahiri capped it all by draining a 15-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole. It was a career low round and it also bettered his last year's record-equaling 62 in the final round, which saw him finish runner-up.
It was a good day for the Indians as SSP Chowrasia, fifth last week in Hong Kong, and Jyoti Randhawa, who are running into good form, shot five-under 66 each to be tied sixth, while Chiragh Kumar (69) was tied 19th.
A total of 14 Indians teed up this week as Arjun Atwal, Angad Cheema, M Dharma and Himmat Rai carded 70 each to be tied 34th, while Jeev Milkha Singh shot 71 to be tied 60th. Shiv Kapur and Rahil Gangjee had a tough time with 73 each in tied 93rd spot, Sujjan Singh (74) was tied 101st. S Chikkarangappa (75) may have given Lahiri good advise but he himself struggled to be tied 120th while Rashid Khan retired.
With India celebrating Diwali, Lahiri, a four-time Asian Tour winner, was delighted to deliver the cheers to his fans back home as he took full advantage of near benign conditions at the par-71 Macau course.
"It's a great Diwali and happy Diwali to everyone back home. It's nice to have some fireworks on the course," smiled Lahiri, who needed only 22 putts for his round.
"It's fantastic. I really played solid all day and it was nice to get such fantastic weather and putt well. I think I did really well inside of 15 feet. This is the best I've putted for a while. My good friend S Chikka who is playing this week pointed something out and he knows my game really well.
"Sometimes my putting stroke doesn't flow as well as it needs to and he spotted a little thing that really helped me. I felt really comfortable on the greens. I'm really happy." With Hend, who was in the group in front, setting the clubhouse target after a brilliant inward 29, Lahiri, who had eight birdies on the card, including four in a row from the 12th hole, finished his round in style when he found the par five 18th green with two mighty blows before rolling in his eagle.
"I knew he (Hend) birdied 17 and 18 and when I got to 18, I saw he was on nine-under. I told my caddie that last year, we got it to nine-under and let's see if I can hole this 15-footer. It would be really nice to have the course record," Lahiri said.
However, today's 61 will however be an unofficial record as the preferred lie rule was in effect.
Hend shot a 62 today, while another Australian Sam Brazel carded a 64 for third place while Switzerland's Martin Rominger and yet another Aussie, Adam Groom produced 65s on a glorious opening day at the Venetian Macau Open, which is offering a record USD 900,000 prize fund this week.
Star attractions Ernie Els of South Africa and three-time Asian Tour number one Thongchai Jaidee, who both played alongside Hend, settled for 70s to trail the leader by nine shots while Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez struggled on the greens for a 72, taking 33 putts.
Big-hitting Hend, who won the Hong Kong Open last week for his sixth Asian Tour title, extended his run of form where his back nine was brilliant. The free-swinging Aussie nailed five birdies and one eagle to give himself a chance of joining Zhang Lian-wei as the only men to win the Venetian Macau Open twice.
"I just played good, missed a few putts though. The softness from the (overnight) rain made it easier than normal and we were lucky conditions were benign. This course can still jump up and bite you. I'm hitting the ball good, putting good and thinking good. It usually adds up with a bit of luck for a good score," said the 41-year-old.
"Just the first round, three more days to go...it's pretty hard to keep the galloping pace up and sometimes, you have to bring the pace back to a little trot."
Els, third here at the Venetian Macau Open last year and joint fifth in Hong Kong on Sunday, cruised to three-under through 10 holes before a run of three dropped shots pulled him down the leaderboard.