Thailand's Nitithorn spoils Indian party, pips Ajeetesh Sandhu in play-off to win DGC Open
New Delhi, March 27, 2022
Unheralded Nitithorn Thippong spoiled the Indian party as he held his nerves at crucial moments to beat Ajeetesh Sandhu on the first hole of a sudden-death play-off to claim the inaugural $ 500,000 DGC Open after a dramatic finish at Delhi Golf Club (DGC) here on Sunday.
Thailand’s Settee Prakongvech ended one shot short of the play-off after returning 71 to finish outright third for his best Asian Tour result, while Gaganjeet Bhullar from India carded 72, to claim solo fourth, two strokes further back.
Nitithorn, who started the last day with a two-stroke advantage, failed to hold on to the lead as Sandhu clawed back into the reckoning.
It turned out to be a battle of attrition between the Thai and crowd favourite Sandhu and it saw the lead change hands twice before the 72nd hole of the championship.
At the 17th tee Sandhu was sitting on a two-shot swing after Nittithorn bogeyed 16, but the Indian sliced his shot into the bushes to concede a double-bogey.
That brought both back on level terms and both birdied the 72nd and final hole to set up the play-off.
Nitithorn (68-70-70-73) and Sandhu (69-68-73-71) went into a play-off after they ended the regulation 72 holes in a deadlock with matching totals of seven-under 281.
On the decisive first play-off hole, played on the par-5 18th, Thippong prevailed after he found the green in two shots and made a two-putt for birdie even as Sandhu found the bushes with his tee shot and could, therefore, just manage a par.
The victory earned the Thai a cheque of $ 90,000 and a two-year exemption on the Asian Tour after the current season, while Ajeetesh Sandhu took home $ 55,000.
“I can't describe my feelings right now. It is amazing to win on the Asian Tour. I was waiting for this for a long time, can't describe my feelings. It’s incredible, amazing,” said Nitithorn.
“Today I did not putt so good. I was just trying to hit it on the green and just make the par. I had only one birdie - #3 and then the last one on the 18.
“After I dropped a shot - got a bogey on 14 par-5. And it was easy - it was just like a 21-feet putt and I made bogey and I was so nervous there, but I didn't lose my mind that time. I just focused on my process and just focused on everything that I could and just played. In the play-off, I didn't get nervous. I was free and comfortable,” he added.
For Sandhu, it was a rare defeat in a shootout as he has three wins out of four in the past on the domestic PGTI schedule. It was also a chance to end a five-year Asian Tour title drought after the Yeagnder Championship in Chinese Taipei back in 2017.
Overall, it was his fifth runner-up finish on the Asian Tour, a record he would surely want to set right.
Sandhu took the defeat sportingly. "It was a good week. Looking back, I’ll definitely take a lot from it. It was disappointing how it finished but that’s golf. You always have to keep coming back from disasters. No regrets because while competing you’re always trying your best.
“I was struggling with my ball-striking recently but managed to turn it around this week. I was very comfortable with my hitting this week, especially on a course like this and with all the pressure of the last two days. I hit it well today even though the pin positions were quite tough. Now I just need to sharpen my putting.” He opined
“In hindsight, I would say on the 17th I tried to hit a shot which was not a high percentage one. I tried to move it with the wind to go into the flag but just didn’t make a good swing. On the playoff hole, I hit a good drive which landed on the fairway and just took off to the right. So, I got a little unlucky there. I then chipped out with a 7-iron and followed that up with a gap wedge. I felt the wind held up the third shot a little bit leaving me a tricky 15-feet birdie putt," he added.
The tournament turned out to be a good outing for the large Thai contingent. Settee Prakongvech finished in sole possession of third place and Danthai Boonma took away the course record at the reworked Lodhi Course with an eight-under round of 64 on the day for a share of 10th place overall.
“It was incredible. I’m shocked with my score, 8-under today. That too when I started with a bogey,” the 25-year-old from Bangkok said.
“I just focused on my first shot because this course is a bit narrow. And I hit it very good. Hit my approach shots close to the hole and got many chances to make birdies,” Boonma said.
Gaganjeet Bhullar was fourth and Justin Quiban of the Philippines fifth. Shiv Kapur made a late recovery to share sixth place with countrymen Yuvraj Sandhu and Veer Ahlawat, and Sri Lanka’s Mithin Perera.