27 March 2022: The inaugural edition of The DGC Open presented by Mastercard swung furiously from one end to another before finally ending in favour of the baby-faced 25-year-old Thai Nitithorn Thippong. It was Nitithorn’s maiden Asian Tour win, while Ajeetesh Sandhu, who was looking for his second success, finished runner-up for the fifth time on Asian Tour.
At the end of 72 holes, Nitithorn (73) and Sandhu (71) were Tied at 7-under, while Settee Prakongvech (71) was sole third.
Gaganjeet Bhullar (72) was fourth while Filipino Justin Quiban (70) was sole fifth. Four players including three Indians, Shiv Kapur (68), Yuvraj Sandhu (67)and Veer Ahlawat (73) were Tied sixth alongside Sri Lankan Mithun Perera (69). Five players including three Indians, Shamim Khan, M Dharma and Yashas Chandra were Tied-10th.
Coming back to the dramatic finish, there was a two-shot swing twice in the last four holes. First in the favour of the 33-year-old Sandhu, when Nitithorn dropped a bogey on the 14th while Sandhu picked a birdie. That gave Sandhu a one-shot lead and for the first time, he was alone on top of the leaderboard. When Nitithorn dropped another bogey on the 16th, Sandhu was two clear with two holes to play.
Sandhu seemed in control but there was another twist in the tale. Sandhu hit his first shot on 17th into the jungle and dropped a double bogey leaving both players level once again.
On the 18th, Nitithorn holed a 12-footer for birdie which meant Sandhu needed to hole a clutch 10-footer for birdie to force a play-off. He managed that and the players went back to the 18th tee for the play-off.
In the play-off on the 18th, Sandhu once again missed the fairway and Nitithorn produced the shot of the tournament. He wanted to lay up but his caddie Thirdpong, his friend’s father, advised him to ‘go for it’ with a 3-wood. Nitithorn took the advice and produced a masterpiece, landing his second shot inside 15 feet. As Sandhu managed only a par, the Thai had two putts to win. He managed that comfortably with no problems.
The win earned the genial Thai $90,000 and a two-year exemption ending in December 2024.
“I can’t describe my feeling right now,” Nitithorn said later. “It is amazing to win on the Asian Tour. I have been waiting for this for a long time, can’t describe my feelings. It’s incredible, amazing.”
The Thai, who turned professional at age 17 in 2015 added, “In the playoffs, I didn’t get nervous. I was free and comfortable. After I saw Ajeetesh hit his drive into the bushes on the right I stayed with my driving iron. On my second shot the idea was to lay up with a 3-wood but my caddie Thirdpong said to just go for it and I made the shot. I was not sure where it landed but then I saw the ball was on the green. I did not putt so good today so the idea was to just make the par. I had only one birdie on hole 3, and then the last one on 18.”
At the 17th tee box, Sandhu was sitting on a two-shot swing after Nitithorn bogeyed 16, but the Indian sliced his shot into the bushes to concede a double-bogey which brought both back on level terms.
For Sandhu, it was a rare defeat in a shootout as he has three wins out of four in the past on the domestic PGTI schedule. It was also a chance to end a five-year Asian Tour title drought after the Yeangder Championship in Chinese Taipei back in 2017.
Sandhu however, was sanguine about the outcome, “It was a good week. Looking back, I’ll definitely take a lot from it. It was disappointing how it finished but that’s golf. You always have to keep coming back from disasters. No regrets because while competing you’re always trying your best.”
“I was struggling with my ball-striking recently but managed to turn it around this week. I was very comfortable with my hitting this week, especially on a course like this and with all the pressure of the last two days. I hit it well today even though the pin positions were quite tough. Now I just need to sharpen my putting.”
It was a satisfying day overall for the large Thai contingent at The DGC Open, The winner’s prize apart, Settee Prakongvech finished in sole possession of third place and Danthai Boonma took away the course record at the reworked Lodhi Course with an eight-under round of 64 on the day for a share of 10th place overall.
“It was incredible. I’m shocked with my score, 8-under today. That too when I started with a bogey,” the 25-year-old Boonma, who is from Bangkok, said. “I just focused on my first shot because this course is bit narrow. And I hit it very good. Hit my approach shots close to the hole and got many chances to make birdies.