Greater Noida: Half a dozen Ryder Cup stars will pose an intimidating challenge but India's in-form golfers would be up for it after confidence-boosting starts to the year when the tri-sanctioned Avantha Masters rolls off Thursady at the Jaypee Greens Golf Course here.
The event's first and only Indian winner is the ever-smiling SSP Chowrasia, who bagged the title in 2011. But last year, none of the home golfers figured in even the top-20 and ties. "I've played Jaypee Greens many times, so I know what to expect. The fairways are quite wide, so unless the rough is very thick I think the scoring will be quite low," said Chowrasia, who is a two-time European Tour winner having won the 2008 Indian Masters.
"After my win in 2011, I thought I could do anything. Winning once on the European Tour is one thing; but if you then win again, it shows it wasn't down to luck the first time. I feel like I'm now a much better player than I was when I won for the first time in 2008," he added. The Indians, in fact, would be quite a force to reckon with given their performances so far.
The first and only Indian winner at Avantha Masters is SSP Chowrasia, who bagged the title in 2011.
Among the strong contenders is Anirban Lahiri, fresh from the Asian Tour's SAIL-SBI Open title triumph last week. The seasoned pros in the fray would include Jeev Milkha Singh, who is injury-free and in decent form, Jyoti Randhawa, Shiv Kapur and Chowrasia. Not to be counted out is Challenge Tour champion Gaganjeet Bhullar who would be vying to take home the biggest share of the euro 1.8million prize fund.
They will be up against a strong field, the undisputed star of which is Colin Montgomerie. The Scot, who captained Europe to Ryder Cup glory in 2010, has won 31 European Tour titles. Two of them came in Asia in a glorious career. "Whenever I have visited this fascinating country in the past, I have always found the people to be both very friendly and enthusiastic about golf," he said.
Also there would be Edoardo Molinari, among the six players with Ryder Cup pedigree. The Italian will be joined by Ignacio Garrido of Spain, England's David Howell, Frenchman Thomas Levet, Montgomerie and Welshman Philip Price. Between them, the six have amassed a total of 31 points in the Ryder Cup, with Montgomerie contributing the most, 23.5, in eight appearances as a player.
The eight-time winner of European Order of Merit will be joined by England's Simon Dyson, Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen and Frenchman Thomas Levet, who have captured a total of 15 European titles between them. Not to forget defending champion Jbe Kruger who will tee up alongside the creme de la creme of the Asian Tour, including Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and China's Liang Wenchong.
Indian-origin Swede Daniel Chopra will return to his father's birthplace to tee up at the Greg Norman-designed Jaypee Greens GC, which at 7,347 yards is India's longest golf course. PGTI Order of Merit winner Shamim Khan, who was the best-placed Indian the last time around at tied 22nd, would be another player to watch out for in home conditions.
Besides the fat pay cheque, the winner of the event, which is tri-sanctioned by the Asian Tour, European Tour and Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI), will receive 20 world ranking points. The world rankings will be used to determine the 60-man field when golf makes its return to the Olympics. It has been estimated that the top-200 bracket will be the cut-off for players to qualify.