KARACHI: Barring an unprecedented collapse, Shabbir Iqbal will be holding aloft the CAS Open Golf Championship trophy on Sunday.
After a performance that was close to his first-round show, that saw him race into an eight-stroke lead, and far from his performance in the second, where he only managed a par, Pakistan’s top golfer carded a bogey-free 66 on Saturday to burnish his lead by a whopping 10 strokes.
It was another performance in which he left his rivals trailing in his wake at the Airmen Golf Club. It had seemed the club’s inconsistent greens had reined in Shabbir on Friday. But he broke the shackles, mastering the course to end the third round on 14-under 202.
Hitting birdies on the third, eighth, ninth, 10th, 16th and 18th holes, Shabbir seemed he wanted to leave nothing to chance on Sunday and left closest challenger Mohammad Ashfaq (71) with an uphill task if he is to reel in the leader in the final round.
Ashfaq seemed on song in a fast start when he struck birdies on the second, fourth and fifth holes but the wheels seemed to come off when he bogeyed the seventh and 12th holes. He hit a birdie on the 16th hole but then bogeyed the very next hole to sit on 212, a stroke ahead of Hamza Amin (68).
After a disastrous first-round 77, Hamza has put himself in contention for a podium place. After birdies on the third and eighth holes, Hamza bogeyed the ninth but rebounded with further birdies on the 10th, 14th and 15th holes as he matched his score from the second round.
Mohammad Munir’s 69 was the day’s third best score but he was left rueing his performances in the earlier rounds and is one of three golfers who is on a par score after three rounds.
“My putting hasn’t been too good,” Munir told Dawn, as he joined a chorus of other players blaming the inconsistency of the greens at the course. “Of course the bumpy greens have affected putting. But I’ve been struggling with my putting over the last several tournaments and it’s my hitting that has kept me afloat.”
A massive 14 strokes behind the leader, even though Munir is counting himself out of title race, he believes anything can happen in the final round. “Anything can happen in golf, you never know,” he said.
Tied with Munir are Matloob Ahmed (74) and Mohammad Nazir (76). Matloob arrived at the CAS Golf Championship on the back of winning the Rashid D. Habib Memorial and DHA Karachi Cup titles here over the last month but both form and luck seem to have deserted him in his bid for a title three-peat in Karachi.
Another three golfers are at one-under after three rounds. They include Shahid Javed Khan (70), Ansar Mehmood (71) and Mohammad Safdar (74).
While the two-day ladies event teed off on Saturday, Taimoor Khan did in the amateurs’ category what Shabbir did in the professionals’. His gross score of 69 saw him take his three-round aggregate to two-under 214 and open a nine-stroke lead over Mohammad Saqib (72). Mohammad Sharif is the net leader with 212.
Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2019