A competitor attempts a putt during the opening round of the CNS Open Golf Championship at the Karachi Golf Club on Thursday.—INP
A competitor attempts a putt during the opening round of the CNS Open Golf Championship at the Karachi Golf Club on Thursday.—INP

KARACHI: Under overcast skies and amid intermittent rain, Salman Akhtar provided the highlight of the opening round of the CNS Open Golf Championship here at the Karachi Golf Club on Tuesday.

With the rain making it a stop-start day for golfers, Salman sank a hole-in-one to take the biggest prize of his nascent professional career.

It came on his third hole of the day and totally out of the blue. His performance on the first two holes had provided no indication whatsoever that a hole-in-one was coming. A bogey on the first was followed by a double bogey on the second.

“At that point in time, I was cursing my decision of playing in the tournament,” he told Dawn. “I hadn’t been in the best of form and I had decided on skipping the CNS Open but only played on the insistence of my father [senior golfer Akhtar Ali]. On the first two holes, my tee shots had hit the trees so when I came to the third, the thought of a hole-in-one didn’t even occur to me.”

But then he left everyone — even himself — amazed. On the par-3 180-yard hole, Salman’s connection was true, the shot landing perfectly in front of the flag and after a few bounces it was in.

“It was a surreal feeling really,” said Salman, who turned pro this year. “I had this buzz on the next three holes. I couldn’t believe I’d accomplished the feat.”

For his accomplishment, Salman got a brand new Toyota Fortuner. “It’s difficult to express my feelings in words,” said the golfer who comes from a humble background. “This prize … I don’t know how much I’ll win in my life … but I will cherish this the most.”

Despite the hole-in-one, Salman isn’t likely to be in contention for the main prize with his 79 seeing him 10 shots off the lead.

Rising golfer Ahmed Baig stayed true to his form with a bogey-free three-under 69 to end the first 18 holes in a three-way tie at the top with Mohammad Qasim and Shahid Javed Khan.

Coming into the tournament on the back off winning his first professional title at the Sindh Open, Ahmed played a flawless round although he admitted he had to adjust his game a bit.

“I had to play safe today because of the rain,” Ahmed told Dawn after hitting three birdies in the round.

“I couldn’t go on the attack,” he added, referring to the sixth hole where he missed a regulation birdie putt because “the rain got heavier and there was wind too” when he approached the shot.

“Although the rains didn’t affect the greens or the fairways that much, it was still a hindrance. It affects you mentally. You keep thinking how it would affect your tee shot, your approach shot and your putt and I decided to play it safe today and I’m glad I’m in contention but there is a long way to go.”

Ahmed went quietly with his business, his only birdie on the front nine on the seventh hole. He followed it with two more on the 11th and the 16th holes.

Shahid matched Ahmed with a bogey-free round — his birdies coming on the fourth, seventh and ninth holes, while Qasim had four birdies and a bogey.

Hamza Amin struck six birdies but four bogeys saw him sit one shot off the lead alongside four other golfers including Matloob Ahmed, Mohammad Imran, Talat Aijaz and Talib Hussain.

Talib also struck six birdies but his score was hit by a double bogey on the final hole. Matloob and Imran struck five birdies each while Talat had four.

Mohammad Munir heads a group of six golfers on 71 while defending champion Shabbir Iqbal, seeking a record 12th title at the tournament, was one of 12 golfers who shot a 72.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2019