18 March 2021: Gaganjeet Bhullar took off from where he left it last week in Doha. Fresh off a second placed finish, Bhullar put on a real display around the turn for an impressive 66 in the opening round of the Kenya Open. He is just two off the leader, Benjamin Herbert, who shot 64 to separate himself on a crowded leaderboard. Seven golfers are tied in second at 65, with Bhullar and four other golfers in T9 behind them. Shubhankar Sharma started with a 73 containing two birdies while SSP Chawrasia shot 74 with three birdies. Both men have an uphill climb on Friday to try and squeeze themselves into the weekend.
Herbert was also in the crowd till he gained sole possession of the lead with a birdie on the 18th hole. The 34-year-old Frenchman started with a bogey at the first, but he gained four strokes over the next six holes to swing the pendulum his way. In his 218th start on the European Tour, Herbert is still looking for a maiden victory. An eagle on the twelfth where he made a brilliant putt from about 15 feet was the high point of an impressive round.
“It was a fantastic day,” said Hebert. “I played very solid all day long. It’s been a long time since it has been like this.
“I played well all day, so I’m very happy. My strategy worked well. I didn’t play too aggressive or hit many drivers. In the morning it’ll be a little bit wetter, so maybe we can be more aggressive with the pins, we’ll see tomorrow.”
An early birdie got Bhullar away to a fine start, but a bogey at the par-5 sixth threatened to upend his ambitions. The 32-year-old would have none of that though as he surged ahead on a scorching array of birdies punctuated by an eagle on the par-5 eleventh hole to bring himself to the first page of the leaderboard. Bhullar made a birdie on the ninth, tenth and twelfth, coming home on six straight pars.
Kalle Samooja was leading the dense group in second place. But not one of them could turn in a blemish free card. Sam Horsfield was eight-under through 13 holes and looked set for an imposing round, before conceding bogeys on the 14th and 15th to dent his card just enough to drop into the group in second. Raphaël Jacquelin, Adrian Meronk, Bernd Ritthammer, Calum Hill and Connor Syme also made 65.
Bhullar is tied with Justin Harding, Julian Suri, Matthew Southgate and Dale Whitnell were all at five-under 67. Southgate enjoyed a bogey free run at the scenic Karen Country Club in Nairobi.