04 November 2018: The Jeev Milkha Singh Invitational came to a thrilling end after an action-packed final round unfolded like a thriller featuring S Chikkarangappa and Karandeep Kochhar. Through an intense battle for pride and honour, both men stumbled before finding the courage to stand, providing for excitement and tension. In the end, it took a playoff to separate the two men. Chikkarangappa sealed the deal on the first playoff hole to win the tournament by a cat’s whisker.
The man from Bengaluru fought with great discipline to post an even 72 despite three bogeys. Kochhar shot 70 and despite faltering on the back nine, recovered just in time to force a playoff with a birdie on the final hole. The two men finished at 12-under 276.
Jyoti Randhawa, playing with his two junior rivals posted a 70 too to end the week in third place at 278. M Dharma was fourth one stroke further back, with Yashas Chandra rounding off the top five at 8-under 280.
Chikkarangappa began the day with a couple of early birdies, stretching his lead to four. Just when it seemed that he was in a comfortable space, the Bengaluru golfer succumbed to Sunday vagaries, conceding three straight bogeys.
Kochhar was waiting in the wings, playing in the final group with Chikkarangappa and Jyoti Randhawa. The young man posted birdies at the fourth and fifth to draw even with the leader at the 6th hole.
The 19-year-old local golfer moved into the lead when Chikka made his third bogey in a row at the 7th hole. That lead grew to two when Kochhar made a birdie at the tenth.
But the drama was just about to unfold even as a thrilled Chandigarh crowd kept a steady note of high noise, cheering for their own young man. At the 12th, Kochhar dropped his club at the tee box, soon as he realized that he flew into the right rough. A couple of bogeys followed from there and the two men were even again at 11-under with just five holes to play.
Meanwhile, Jyoti threw his hat in the ring. He made birdies at 11 & 13 to move within two from the leaders. At about this time, M Dharma, playing spectacularly well for his 67, settled into the comforts of the clubhouse at 9-under 279.
When Kochhar slipped to a bogey at the 15th, Chikkarangappa went ahead again. The intensity in the air and the nerves of the golfers combined to give a raucous collection of spectators more than they had bargained for.
The 19-year old hooked his second shot into the bushes on the 16th. Kochhar pulled off a near impossible shot with his third and made par, as did Chikkarangappa. Jyoti made a birdie to join in second place at 10-under, one behind the lead. The scent of a playoff only served to add to the palpable excitement that took hold at the Chandigarh Golf Club.
The three men made birdies at the 17th and as they approached the final tee box, the tension that gripped the stage was palpable. Jyoti and Karandeep were at -11 with Chikkarangappa in front at -12.
On the 18th, Kochhar showed maturity that defied his teenaged frame, making a clutch birdie to draw even again with Chikkarangappa. The warrior in him wouldn’t let go and a playoff was the only way to separate the two men battling all day for honours.
Chikkarangappa prevailed on the first hole of the playoff to edge out Karandeep for the title. It was a fitting end to a grand tribute to one of our greatest golfers, Jeev Milkha Singh. The gentle legend had gone out of his way to keep everyone happy in the first edition of this grand event.
Kochhar announced himself on the Indian golf scene winning the PGTI Players Championship in 2016. A three-stroke victory over Om Prakash Chouhan even as he was an amateur underlined the young man’s promise. He rode that confidence to beat Arjun Prasad to the Amateur Golf Championship of India in December that year.
The Chandigarh boy hasn’t looked back since then. Kochhar was T2 at the Panasonic Open India last year and has finished inside the top 20 on the Asian Tour three times this season.
The road ahead promises to be exciting for this young man with plenty of talent and the pluck to go with it.
Chikkarangappa needed a solid victory to regain the magical touch that went missing from his golf. One can only hope that this victory spurs the young man back on his path, chasing international glory.