KARACHI: How do you beat a performance that was so perfect, so majestic as that of Matloob Ahmed at the Karachi Golf Club on Saturday? It was what many were left wondering at the end of the third round of the CNS Open Golf Championship.
“I really didn’t expect that one … he did a great job,” overnight leader Hamza Amin told Dawn after Matloob shot a stunning bogey-free 62 to tie the KGC course record and claim the lead heading into Sunday’s final 18 holes.
At the start of the day, Matloob was six strokes off the top of the leaderboard. By the end of it, he was a stroke ahead of Hamza (69) and Talib Hussain (67) at 11-under 205.
It was brutal. It was brilliant. Matloob was so forceful as he set out to reduce the advantage between him and the top that he blew everyone away.
“I wasn’t too happy after the second round,” Matloob, who was tied with Hamza — a shot off the lead — after the first round, told Dawn. “I felt there was no chance so I went in today on the attack. I knew it was going to be boom or bust.”
He knew he was in form and on song when he struck an eagle on the second hole. He kept his tee shot straight and once it landed on the fairway, his approach landed on the green. He knew his putter was red hot when he found the hole with his next shot.
“When you get that kind of a start, you somehow do feel it’s going to be your day,” Matloob said. It was. He birdied the third, sixth and eighth holes and then continued that rampaging form on the back nine as he birdied five consecutive holes from the 11th to 15th, sinking some putts from eight to 10 feet, to match Waheed Baloch’s course record from four years ago.
“My putting was exceptional today and I also tried to hit my tee shots centrally to stay on the fairways,” he said. Will he adjust his style of play on Sunday with the title on his mind? “I will have to keep attacking and can’t really think of consolidation at this moment. It’s bunched up at the top.”
Not only are Hamza and Talib close but two shots off the lead is Mohammad Tariq, who pushed himself into contention by firing nine birdies in his 64. Another two shots further adrift is record 11-time champion Shabbir Iqbal (69). Mohammad Munir (70), Waheed Baloch (70) and Mohammad Nazir (70) are at 211.
Akbar Mahroz, who also shot nine birdies in a third-round 64, heads a group of three golfers on 212 while the fast-rising Ahmed Baig, who was in a three-way tie at the top after the first round, is at 213.
Ahmed, who came into the tournament on the back of his first professional title at the Sindh Open two weeks ago, told Dawn he was disappointed with his show after such a promising start.
“I’ve been playing for the last 14 days,” lamented the 20-year-old. “It’s exhaustion that has prevented me from pushing on from the first round performance but nevertheless it’s a learning curve for me.”
Nevertheless, the CNS Open is headed for an exciting climax.
“It’s going to be a one-day shootout for the title because the leaderboard is packed,” said Hamza, who had a bogey-free round. “A stroke’s lead doesn’t count for much.”
The CNS Open has seen some remarkable final day turnarounds in the past. Two years ago, Mohammad Ashfaq overturned Shabbir’s two-shot lead in a sensational final round comeback. Shabbir, however, won last year while defending a stroke’s lead coming into the final round.
“I just have to stick to my plan and not think too much about the score,” said Hamza, who is seeking a first professional title in Karachi. “I had too many par putts today but not many birdie putts. I’ll try to change that tomorrow.”
Alongside Hamza, Talib — who shot seven birdies on Saturday — would be looking to end an eight-year title drought. Since winning the All Pakistan Bolan Golf Tournament in 2011, Talib has ended runner-up in nine different tournaments. Things could change for him on Sunday.
Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2019