KARACHI: A day before the latest edition of the Rashid D. Habib Memorial National Professional Golf Championship teed off, Shabbir Iqbal spoke of his desire to make history.
He wanted to launch the first successful title defence in the seven-year history of the tournament. He is now just one round away from fulfilling his aspiration.
With a sublime round of 69, featuring five birdies, Shabbir moved three strokes clear of his nearest rivals with an aggregate of 207 at the Karachi Golf Club (KGC) on Saturday.
One of his chasers though was still hoping for some final-round drama.
“There will be pressure on him to maintain his lead,” Matloob Ahmed, who shot a third-round 71 and is four strokes off the pace, told Dawn. “At this tournament specifically we’ve seen some drama on the final day and I hope I can provide that tomorrow.”
Matloob has finished in third place on two occasions, and on both times — in 2015 and 2017 — Shabbir was the winner.
“I feel confident of closing the gap on him [Shabbir],” he added. “It’s not going to be easy but it’s not impossible.”
Betweeen Shabbir and Matloob are Mohammad Munir and Amjad Yousuf. Both started the day two shots behind the leader but after rounds of 70 each found themselves having to make up an additional shot on the final day.
Munir said the only chance he had of catching up on Shabbir was by putting well on the final day.
“There were problems in putting today again,” Munir, who won the tournament’s inaugural edition in 2012, told Dawn after a round in which he sank only two birdies.
“If I hadn’t missed some easy putts, today was the day I think I could’ve closed the gap but I’ll try to sink some long putts early on tomorrow and that will hopefully give me a chance.”
He wasn’t the only one in the chasing pack who wasn’t happy with his putting.
“The greens on the KGC have thick grass which increases the difficulty in putting,” Matloob said. “Personally, I have problems in putting as I take too much pressure but if I have to win I have to overcome the nerves tomorrow.”
The best round of the day came from Safdar Khan, who shot an impressive 68 and is one of four golfers on 214. The highlight of Safdar’s performance was an eagle on the sixth hole which came on the heels of a bogey on the previous hole.
Mohammad Zubair, whose second-round score of 67 was the lowest, managed a 71 and is tied with Safdar.
Ahmed Saeed and Moazzam Siddique, who had played impressively in the first two rounds and were grouped with Munir and Amjad at the start of the day shot 74 and 75 respectively.
Waheed Baloch, the champion in 2016, played his best round of this year’s tournament when he shot a 70 but his unimpressive showing in the opening two rounds saw him end the day nine shots off the pace at 216.
Putting, he said, was the problem he faced too.
“I’ve had problems in putting throughout,” he told Dawn. “I was hitting well but kept missing putts.”
Having witnessed first-hand over the years how quickly things can change on the final day of this tournament, Waheed said Shabbir has a fight on his hand on the final day.
“This title has traditionally been very difficult to defend,” he said. “At the top of the leaderboard, everyone is bunched up close and it promises to be a close contest.”
Elsewhere, the two-day contests in the junior and senior professional category started on Saturday.
Ghani Khan leads the seniors by four strokes from Iftikhar Ahmed, Abdul Jabbar and Mehmood Kiani after shooting a 67 while Kashif Masih is the junior leader after he shot 75 for a three-stroke lead over Nadeem Khan and Kamal Khan.
Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2018