New Delhi: Off-season rust and a cold putter spoilt the day for star attraction Arjun Atwal even as course familiarity worked to the advantage of some unfancied names such as Sanjay kumar and Shamim Khan in the opening round of the Hero Honda Indian Open Golf Tournament here on Thursday.
Sanjay was, in fact, the highest-placed Indian at tied second with a bogey-free four-under 68, comprising a couple of birdies on each-nine.
Shamim carded a three-under 69 which comprised five birdies and a couple of bogeys - one on each nine.
Among the 49 Indians in fray, Ashok Kumar, Gaurav Pratap Singh and Ranjit Singh also opened with three-under cards to share the seventh spot with Shamim.
Atwal, a major draw at the event after his breakthrough PGA Tour title win in the August Wyndham Championships, struggled and ended up bartering a couple of birdies for three bogeys. The Orlando-based golfer was tied 45th along with Digvijay Singh and Vijay Kumar.
The 37-year-old, who started on the 10th, blamed it on lack of practice and his poor short game.
"It was a good 73. I just didn't hit well, I didn't find the greens and I couldn't putt. Still a 73, which is why I say it is good!," he said.
"I think it is just off-season rust showing up. I need to go and hit a few balls. I need to get the alignment right.
"After Wyndham and Singapore, I played three of the five events in fall season and was third in one. Then in Asia I played in Malaysia, HSBC in Shanghai and Singapore Open.
"After Singapore Open, which was three weeks ago I haven't played much and spent time with family and friends. So I just need to get to the range and hit some balls and putt a bit."
The two-under group also featured PGTI regulars. Manav Jaini, Himmat Rai, Chirag Kumar, Ashok Kumar and Sanjay Kumar shared the 10th spot even as the stars made a rather slow start.
At one-under was back-nine starter Shiv Kapur, who found birdies on the 14th, second and sixth against bogeys on the 12th and seventh to be tied 20th.
"It was a frustrating day. I was hitting the greens fine, I hit 16 greens, but putting let me down. I just could not hole anything. I am going to try my old putter, the one with which I won the Volvo Masters in 2005. I am bringing it out and am going to give it a try," Kapur said.
"Overall, it was a good day, but one part - putting - did not work."
Three-time champion Jyoti Randhawa lay tied 33rd after opening with an even-par 72.
Among those who shared the spot with him was 19-year-old Rashid Khan. The Asian Games team silver-medallist managed a couple of birdies against an equal number of bogeys.
Indian-origin Swede Daniel Chopra's wretched form continued as he carded a two-over 74 to be tied 54th.
Much worse was defending champion C Muniyappa, who is battling a sore back. Muniyappa was in fact danger of missing the cut after returning a nightmarish eight-over.
The top spot was claimed by Korean Kim Hyung-sung, who returned a blemish-free five-under 67. Hyung-sung held a one-stroke lead over the field.
"I'm so happy. My putting was very good. I holed about three long putts from about 10 yards at the 17th, 18th and third holes. It was good to keep the card bogey free. It's my first time to India and after today's good score, I like this course," he said.
"It's a difficult golf course. Your tee shots need to be good. I hit many drivers off the tee, maybe about 10 holes. I was aggressive," the 30-year-old, who battled a shoulder injury earlier this year, said.
The second spot was shared by Thai Nanchok Tantipokakul, Korean Baek Seuk-hyun, Australian Marcus Both, and South African Jbe Kruger.