KARACHI: About half an hour past sunrise, Shabbir Iqbal strode out to the Arabian Sea Country Club course with a share of the lead at the start of the second round of the Sindh Open Golf Championship.
On a day when his grey jacket glistened in the winter sunshine, Pakistan’s top golfer shone brightly to open up a four-shot advantage atop the leaderboard.
Shabbir was at his sublime best on Saturday as he shot a 66 for an 11-under 133 to set himself up for yet another tilt at the title. If he manages to keep his lead intact in the third and final round on Sunday, it will be the seventh victory at the tournament for Shabbir.
But it won’t be a cakewalk.
Matloob Ahmed stormed into contention with a 66 and is in a quartet of golfers at 137, which also includes defending champion Ahmed Baig (68), Ansar Mehmood (67) and Taimoor Khan (69).
Wisal Khan shot the day’s best of 65 and is tied with Waheed Baloch (67) on 138, a stroke ahead of Mohammad Nazeer (68), Mohammad Ashfaq (68) and Mohammad Alam (69).
Mohammad Munir, who was tied atop the leaderboard at the start of the round, fell seven strokes behind after a 73. Alongside him on 140 is Khalid Khan (72).
With the cut set at 145, the professionals’ field was reduced to less than half with only 43 of 100 participants to be in action on Sunday.
Abdul Wadood took a commanding lead in the junior professionals’ competition, with a 68 that put him to two-under 142 and seven strokes ahead of Akash Bashir (74).
Ali Hai (74) and Nadir Khan (74) share the lead in the amateurs’ contest; the duo at 154 and a shot ahead of Waqas Burki (77).
All eyes on Sunday, however, will be on Shabbir and his quest for a record-extending title. And if he were to replicate his second-round performance, there is little chance for the rest of the field.
Shabbir opened up with a bogey on Saturday but then rebounded to sink birdies on the fourth, sixth and seventh holes. He went bogey-free on the back nine, hitting birdies on the 11th, 12th, 14th and 18th holes in a mesmerising performance.
Yet, there was an even better performer on the day. Wisal went bogey-free over 18 holes, hitting birdies on the first, fourth, seventh, 11th. 12th, 16th and 18th holes.
The closest challengers to Shabbir will need to emulate Wisal to have any chance of going past Shabbir at the top.
Matloob, the Sindh Open champion two years ago, would fancy his chances. Seemingly out of the picture after an opening round 71 and a front nine in which he had two birdies and a bogey, he reeled off five birdies on the back nine to close in on Shabbir.
Ahmed hit a spectacular eagle on the seventh hole but his attempt at reducing the deficit on Shabbir was hit by three bogeys on the front nine, in which he also sank two birdies. He hit another three birdies on the back nine.
“There is no room for error for us [in the chasing pack],” the holder told Dawn. “We will all have to attack but at the same time we need to be careful because any slip-up will be very costly.”
Ansar hit six birdies while Taimoor four as they stayed in a tie for second place. But keeping up with Shabbir is all that would matter on Sunday.
Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2021