February 24, 2023: Yannik Paul confesses he noticed that he had become a lot calmer only last week when he came agonizingly close to his second DP World Tour title in Thailand. This week at the US$ 2 million Hero Indian Open that calm demeanour has stayed on and is paying rich dividends as he sits atop the leaderboard with a massive five-shot lead at the halfway stage of the tournament.
Paul, who turns 29 next Sunday and will be looking for an early birthday present, came close to equalling the course record of 8-under held by Shubhankar Sharma on the first day. He started the second day early and negotiated the difficult pins very well. A fast start from the tenth saw him hole three birdies in the first six holes. He then stayed patient and steady after that to drop just one shot on the third but made up for that on the fifth for a round of 3-under 69. It made him the first golfer this week to touch double digits under par with no one even coming close.
There were four players at five-under which included India’s Angad Cheema, who had three birdies against two bogeys in a round where he showed a lot of grit and determination for a 1-under 71. Gudmundur Kristjansson (71), a physics graduate and the highest world-ranked Icelandic player, Finland’s Mikko Korhonen (72) and German veteran Marcel Siem (70), who said the course set-up reminded him of a Major, shared the second place with Cheema.
Paul said, “I only noticed that last week, I was a bit calmer and more collected because you feel like you’ve gained experience last year and that helped me last week. I’ll try not to focus too much on the leaderboard, on a course like this anything can happen.”
“I like India, it’s my first time in India. Every tournament I’m going to, I’m trying to win, so I’ll just see what the weekend brings and take it from there. I probably played almost better today than yesterday (when he shot 65). I felt the pins were in tougher spots today so you had a lot of downhill putts where you think you have a good look but it’s actually two or three cups’ break. I think the course suits my game,” he concluded.
Kristjansson, who came through the Qualifying School, is five behind. He said, “It’s very nice. I’ve had a decent last two weeks (he made the cut in his last two starts), compared to what came before. There is some nice progression in my game. I’m just loving it out there. I like going to new places so these last few weeks have been lovely.”
Korhonen added, “We’ll see what happens on the weekend, things can happen quickly on this course. You need to stay patient. I made a double on 17 today and you just can’t miss it in the rough on that hole. Period.”
The first day’s home hero Honey Baisoya (74) and Dutchman Joost Luiten (70) were tied sixth at 4-under.
Japan’s Masters-bound Kazuki Higa who had the day’s best card of bogey-free 66 while through an interpreter said he hardly missed a green and the 18th was a rare miss, where he nearly a shot from the rough for a birdie. He took a par on that hole.
Tied at eighth with Higa were India’s Yuvraj Sandhu (71), Adrien Saddier (68), Spaniard Santiago Tarrio (71) and England’s Andrew Wilson (70) at 3-under 141 for 36 holes.
The closest any player came to Paul during the day was Honey Baisoya, who with Joost Luiten, a six-time DP World Tour winner, was tied eighth when the second round finished.
Baisoya started on the tenth and birdied his first hole to get to 7-under. However, he endured a lot of pain thereafter with two double bogeys and a bogey in the next six holes. Yet, the DLF golfer did not wilt and clawed his way back with birdies on 17 and 18 to turn in 2-over 38. On his second nine he had three birdies and three bogeys in his last seven holes for a card of 74 that keeps him in the hunt, albeit some distance behind the leader.
The cut fell at four-over with some notable names squeezing in including two-time former champion SSP Chawrasia (73), Scotsman Robert MacIntyre (74), Gaganjeet Bhullar (73) and Shiv Kapur (73).
The notable casualties to fall on the wrong side of the cut line included defending champion Stephen Gallacher (73), Thomas Bjorn (77), three-time former champion Jyoti Randhawa (78), Rashid Khan (81) and Guido Migliozzi (78).