SSP Chawrasia dreams of playing in a major as he sparkles on the opening day of the Hong Kong Open
The 39-year-old cards a five-under-par 65 to take the outright lead on a tight leaderboard
Holding the lead after the opening day of the UBS Hong Kong Open is enough to boost anyone’s confidence, but there is no doubt 39-year-old SSP Chawrasia is telling the truth when he says the world’s best players don’t scare him.
It certainly looked that way on Thursday as he rattled off a five-under-par 65 to get his tournament off to a blistering start and even leave him dreaming of playing in his first major next year.
“Every week I’m playing [with players] better than me, but I don't think about it like he’s world No 1 or whatever number,” the Indian said, referring to a field featuring superstars Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia.
“I respect but I’m not looking. When I’m playing, I’m just focusing on my game. If I’m looking at someone’s world ranking or someone’s scoring, I’m losing my confidence.”
With a smattering of wins across various tours since turning professional in 1997, Chawrasia is one of golf’s grafters. But he’s certainly no mug – four European Tour wins attest to that – and his dream of appearing in his first major could certainly become a reality.
The fact that two of those wins – Indian Open victories this year and last – have come in the past two years suggests there is improvement in Chawrasia yet.
“I still am not playing any majors. I am playing Singapore [in January], the first event on the Asian Tour next year, and the top four go to the British Open,” said Chawrasia, who is ranked 231st in the world. “That is my target next year.”
Chawrasia is a Hong Kong Open veteran but he has had more than his fair share of tough times here, with his best return a tie for fifth in 2014.
He missed the cut last year but is hopeful years of experience will help him turn the tide this time out, with a round featuring one bogey and six birdies providing the perfect platform.
“I’m playing the last couple of weeks good, so I have some confidence,” he said. “I’m five under today and very happy. I made a couple of putts today, I'm just looking forward to the next three days.”
Behind Chawrasia is England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick and another Indian in Shubhankar Sharma on four under, with Fitzpatrick pleased with a round that included four birdies on the front nine.
Basketball, baseball … anything but golf up for discussion between the Koepka brothers this Christmas
“I think I had seven or eight chances inside 15 feet and on a day like today when it’s so windy and such a tough golf course, with how tight it is, it was a good day,” he said.
There were a number of players that reached four under throughout the afternoon and looked set to challenge Chawrasia at the top, however in the end seven players settled for a share of fourth place at three under.
It was solid day for all of the main drawcards, with Rose and Tommy Fleetwood producing solid rounds to finish the opening round two under.
The super group of Rose, Li Haotong and Garcia did not disappoint, with Li also finishing two under and Garcia carding a one-under-par 69.
However it was a slightly disgruntled Garcia who signed off, with a double bogey on the 10th the major blemish in a round that also featured bogeys on the opening and closing holes.
“You could see the day was tough,” he said. “It was very gusty and swirling and we got caught on the 10th hole when the wind changed and we hit the water. But we kept fighting and plugging along.”
Leon D’Souza was the leading Hongkonger after day one with a round of 72.