KARACHI: Playing alongside two of Pakistan’s contemporary golfing greats, Ahmed Baig didn’t show any signs of flinching under pressure. Instead the youngster, playing only his fourth tournament as a professional, rose to the occasion. And by the end of the second round of the Sindh Open here on Saturday, rose head and shoulders above the rest of the field.

Ahmed will begin the final 18 holes on Sunday with a four-shot lead — and a performance over two days that leaves him confident of his chances of glory. “Sindh Open is one of the biggest tournaments on the local circuit,” he told Dawn, looking ahead to potentially the first professional title of his career. “Before the tournament I wanted to do well and I’m happy but I’m not relaxing completely just yet. I know I cannot rest on my laurels just yet. There is another round of golf to play and I hope to give it my best.”

Barely 24 hours ago, Ahmed was licking his lips at the prospect of playing in the leader flight alongside holder Matloob Ahmed and five-time champion Shabbir Iqbal — two of the country’s top golfers of the modern day. In the second round, he outperformed them. So impressive he was that Shabbir — Pakistan’s number one golfer — couldn’t stop from giving him advice to go beyond he himself could go.

“It was a brilliant experience,” Ahmed said. “I play alongside Matloob at our club, the Lahore Garrison, but playing with him and Shabbir in a competitive match was a completely difference experience. I had played with Shabbir once before but I wasn’t that impressive. Today I was good enough that he gave me a lot of tips on how to grow my career further, maintain fitness and form and avoid the mistakes he made in his life.”

For many, Ahmed is the most sensational golfing talent that has come out of Pakistan. He is expected to become a regular on the Asian Tour, and maybe, go on to the PGA Tour. The Sindh Open title might as well start his spectacular story.

But even if, by some stunning turnaround, he doesn’t win it, his performance has been such that he has been earmarked for greatness. On Saturday he played a sizzling 66, striking seven birdies on the way to give him a two-day aggregate of 11-under 133. He came storming out of the blocks, hitting birdies on the third, fourth, seventh and ninth holes with only a bogey on the sixth being a blemish on what would’ve been a spotless day. He hit further birdies on the 11th, 14th and 17th holes.

Matloob, who began the day level with Ahmed, could only manage a 70 to fall second in a topsy-turvy day in which he faltered just when he seemed to be peaking. Starting the day with a birdie, he immediately bogeyed the next hole. Birdies followed on the fourth, eighth and 13th holes but he finished off with a bogey on the final hole to stay two strokes ahead of Shabbir (71) and Shahid Javed Khan (70).

Shabbir had a disastrous start to the second round, bogeying the first two holes. He birdied the fourth and seventh holes but it seemingly all fell apart for him on the eighth hole. Shabbir’s ball had moved as he tried to clear the area of his shot but failing to inform the marker at the time, he had to accept a two-shot penalty for a double bogey on that hole. He rebounded with birdies on the ninth, 12th and 14th holes to give himself a fighting chance for the title.

Like Matloob, Shahid started off with a birdie but then bogeyed the third hole. Birdies on the fourth, 10th and 11th holes followed but a bogey on the 16th prevented him from being outrightly in third place.

Waheed Baloch remained remarkably consistent as he shot 70 for the second successive day to stay seven shots behind the leader on 140 alongside Mohammad Zubair (69). While Waheed hit five birdies, Zubair hit four.

Amjad Yousuf’s 71 saw him finish on 141, a stroke ahead of Khalid Khan (73) and Zeeshan Khan (70). Adil Jahangir, who was tied for second place alongside Shabbir after the first round, had a disastrous day as he hit five bogeys, including four on the front nine, to finish on 75 and is one of eight golfers on 143. Mohammad Munir was one of three golfers on 145 after he shot a 72.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2019