New Delhi, Oct 11 (PTI) Shrugging off a fine by traffic police and battling a stiff neck, Gaurav Ghei turned in a bogey-free opening round of six-under 66 to join five others atop the leaderboard in the USD 500,000 Hero Honda Indian Open here today.
Ghei, a three-time winner on the Asian Tour, fired a blemish-free round at the Delhi Golf Club to soar to the lead where he was joined by compatriot Gurbaaz Mann, Korean rookie Hur In-hoi, Malaysian Danny Chia, Australian David Gleeson and big-hitting Thai Chapchai Nirat.
Chasing them two shots off the pace is a pack of seven that includes in-form Chinese Taipei veteran Lu Wen-teh, last year's runners-up SSP Chowrasia, Shamim Khan, Ashok Kumar, amateur Jasjeet Singh, Martin Rominger and Chang Tse-peng.
Gunning for his maiden title here, Ghei, who has half a dozen top-10 finishes in the event, did not have a good start to the day. On his way to the course, Ghei was fined by traffic cops for not having a pollution control certificate, delaying his arrival at DGC by 20 minutes.
But neither the fine nor his stiff neck could dampen his spirit and deny him a near-perfect round.
Playing with his sweater on till the ninth hole, Ghei birdied the 12th and 14th holes to turn in 34 and then nailed an eagle on the first hole, rifling a three iron to 12 feet off the flag. And he signed off in style, with back-to-back birdies for a highly satisfying day.
"I did not have the perfect start to my day but I am absolutely delighted with my opening round. I think I putted extraordinarily well and that's the key. Since the Mercuries Masters in Taiwan, my neck muscles were stiff and I got some treatment here in Delhi," Ghei said.
Asked what would be his guiding philosophy tomorrow, the veteran said, "I think you have to be aggressive selectively. You have to be little cautious with the tee shot but you can be aggressive with the second shot."
Mann's identical round of 66 included seven birdies as against his lone bogey at the par-four 11th.
"I have been working hard with my coach and the results are finally showing," said the golfer from Chandigarh.
However, last year's UBS Order of Merit champion Jeev Milkha Singh, playing in India for the first time since 2003, battled to a 72 with two bogeys over his last three holes spoiling his return.
A 10th tee starter, Jeev dropped a bogey on the 10th but recovered well a birdie treble on the 13th, 14th and 18th holes. The par-three seventh hole, stretched to a monstrous 230-yard, however, cost him a shot as did the par-four ninth.
"I need to trust my putting more. I missed a lot of birdies as my putts fell short," rued Jeev.
Meanwhile, Jyoti Randhawa had a sedate start to his title defence with an opening round of two-under 70, a round featuring a birdie trio as against the lone blemish that came in the form of a bogey on the par-four 16th.