19 October 2023: There was a strong Indian presence at the top of the Hero Women’s Indian Open leaderboard. One of the pre-tournament favourites Diksha Dagar (67) and a resurgent Vani Kapoor (68), who is playing at her home course, occupied two of the top three places after the first round of the Hero Women’s Indian Open at the DLF Golf and Country Club. Diksha overcame an early bogey to find six birdies later to be one shot behind the leader, Norwegian Madalene Stavnar (66), who is searching for her maiden win on the Ladies European Tour.
Giving the home fans a lot to cheer, local Vani Kapoor shot 4-under 68.
As Diksha and Vani moved up the leaderboard towards the end of the day, amateur Vidhatri Urs showed that Indian women could be a force to reckon with as she shot 2-under 70 to be T-6 while another amateur Avani Prashanth, who finished as the best amateur last year, was T-10 with 1-under 71 despite three bogeys in last eight holes. Avani is the winner of the prestigious Queen Sirikit Cup for amateurs and the Ahlsell Final in Sweden on the LET Access Tour for professionals in August.
Another Indian Gaurika Bishnoi (72) was T-17 after a round that had three birdies against a bogey and a double bogey.
Diksha, who can go to the top of the Race to Costa Del Sol standings with a win this week, said, “It was a slow start (from the tenth tee) for me today because on 11th hole, I was confused with the club selection. So I wasn’t confident about the tee shot. Never mind, I could have made an up and down. But it was alright, afterwards I hit six birdies and I had a solid round.”
“On the 10th hole (the first of the course), I made a very long birdie putt which was uphill and down in slope. It was a 35 footer.
She added, “About my game, all aspects are fairly good and most importantly, putting was the main thing and I putted well today.”
On her expectations for the second round, she said, “For the round tomorrow, I love morning rounds. I prefer to play in the morning because I feel nice. Also, you don’t have to play under the sun because in the afternoon it can get hot.”
The leader Stavnar, who along with Sara Kjellker (73) accompanied Vani and Amandeep Drall for a taste of Indian street food two days ago, had a clean card with six birdies and no bogeys. Stavnar opened with three pars and then had four birdies on fourth, sixth, seventh and ninth to turn in 4-under. She added gains on 13th and 15th and kept bogeys off her card.
Smiling all the way, Stavnar said, “I’m very happy. It’s one of those days where golf feels a little bit easier than others. This course is not easy so a 66 will do very nicely to begin with.”
“I played really steady and think I hit 17 greens today which obviously makes things a little easier. But still, the greens are not too easy. I just felt I did a really good job both mentally and technically.”
Vani Kapoor, who needs a good finish this week to get into Top-60 for the next LET event in Spain, started on the tenth with three pars and then had four birdies in a row.
She said, “I had a good stretch of birdies. I had four of them back to back from the 13th to 16th. I just kept riding on them and then I had a little bad patch going down. I three putted the 18th and missed a chip out on the second which was a little annoying but again those were just lip outs.” She picked birdies on fifth and eighth.
She added, “I gave myself a lot of chances, stayed patient throughout, and I think that’s something that worked.”
On the season itself, she said, “I think my game has been good throughout the year, but unfortunately all the scores haven’t been coming together. It just comes in patches. So, I’ve just been making cuts, but I haven’t had any good finishes.”
Amateurs Vidhatri and Avani had under-par rounds in the morning wave. Vidhatri, who had five birdies against three bogeys, said, “I knew the course was going to be a little tight today and in the front nine the pin positions were a bit tight. So I just wanted to finish it in pars. And then in the back nine a few holes were pretty easy. So I just went for it.
Avani started strongly with four birdies in first 10 holes and then putter went cold. She smiled and said, “It took a bit of time for me to get used to the greens because they were playing pretty slow in the morning. But otherwise, pin positions were pretty good in the back nine and then I executed the plan perfectly and once I got used to the greens, putts really started dropping. And then it got cold in the back nine.”