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Keita Nakajima wins Hero Indian Open 2024 despite late wobble, India’s Veer Ahlawat tied second

Published at :April 1, 2024 at 3:56 PM
Modified at :April 1, 2024 at 3:56 PM
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Local Hope Ahlawat finishes second with eagle.

Keita Nakajima was never really threatened at the USD 2.25 million Hero Indian Open as he won by four shots and set a record for a winning total by aggregating 17-under, three better than the winning score of 2023 achieved by Germany’s Marcel Siem, who was injured and couldn’t defend his title this year.

Nakajima’s win was never in doubt, it was only about the margin of victory. At one stage, Nakajima was nine clear of the field, but finally finished four ahead to take his maiden DP World Tour title at the DLF Golf and Country Club. After touching 21-under after eight holes on the final day, he dropped a double bogey and three bogeys against one birdie in the last five holes to finish 17-under and four clear of three players, including India’s Veer Ahlawat, American Johannes Veerman and Sweden’s Sebastian Soderberg.

It was Nakajima’s fifth title, after four on the Japanese Tour, which includes one as an amateur, where he topped the 2023 Order of Merit to earn his DP World Tour card.

There was a lot to cheer for the local fans as local golfer Veer Ahlawat produced a grandstand finish with an eagle for a round of 1-under 71 after a mid-round run of four bogeys between the sixth and the 14th.  The Tied-second was Ahlawat’s best finish on the DP World Tour and should get him into the next event in Korea in a fortnight.

Ahlawat was the top Indian for the second year in a row, after being T-13 last year with Shubhankar Sharma (72), who this time ended T-31st.

Manu Gandas (71) who played the DP World Tour in 2023, was the next best Indian, just outside the Top-10 in Tied-11th place, which was his best finish on the Tour.

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Apart from Ahlawat and Gandas, the other Indians were Karandeep Kochhar (69) in T-13, Shubhankar Sharma (72) in T-31, Aman Raj (78) in T-51, Jairaj Singh Sandhu (71) and Gaganjeet Bhullar (72) in T-58 and Rashid Khan (78) in T-65.

Nakajima showed some nervousness and stuttered in the closing stages. He dropped a double bogey on the 14th, which had bogeyed the first three days, and then dropped more shots on Par-3 16th, the Par-4 17th and the Par-5 18th.

Even as he finished tied second, Ahlawat was very happy with the result. He said, I’m really happy to have played so well in front of my home crowd, my family and my newly-wedded wife. There was some pressure on me this week as there were high expectations from me playing at my home course with my coach also being present here. But I managed to put together a good week thanks to some brilliant driving and iron-play.”

“Finishing with an eagle was the icing on the cake. There was just one bad drive by me on the eighth today, other than that I didn’t hit bad shots. I just didn’t make good pars on a few holes I would say. Playing well in such a strong field and negotiating the tough windy conditions on the final day really boosts my morale. With the roars, I almost felt like a winner, especially since we were all fighting for second place, once Keita went so far ahead.”

As for his goal from here, he added, “I now lead the PGTI Order of Merit and that gives me a good chance to contend for the Order of Merit crown that can in turn earn me a card on the DP World Tour next year.”

Nakajima was thrilled even as he admitted some nervousness. “I’m very happy to win the Indian National Open. The National Open is a very good tournament. So this win feels like my first win in a professional career, a new career. I’m going to try to win and go to the next step.

“I’m very proud to have won on the DP World Tour and very honoured to be playing here. I want to try and finish on the top ten on this tour and then go to the PGA TOUR in 2025.

“The win definitely gives me a lot of confidence in myself and I’m hoping now to take what I did this week and turn it into even more wins in the future.

“I was a little nervous and I had a tough back nine but I hit some great shots. Fortunately I had a few strokes in the bank which I can credit back to my strong play on the front nine and the earlier rounds this week, so overall very proud of my performance.”

“My coach is Gareth Jones, an Australian and also he’s working with Japan national team since 2015, “ he shared.On his goals, he added, “I want to also play in the Japan’s Olympic team with probably Hideki. That’s my goal. I’m going to try it.”

Nakajima, who was 3-under for the first six holes, touched 21-under and at that stage he was nine clear of the field. He was also in line to break the record of the biggest winning margin of eight shots at the Hero Indian Open set by Chinese Taipei’s Chen Chien Chung back in 1970. But it was not to be.

He fell from 21-under to 17-under, but when the curtain came down on the 2024 Hero Indian Open, Nakajima (65-65-68-73) was still four clear of the field. 

The course, unlike on the earlier days, did not yield too many low scores, with the best being 67, shot by four players. Earlier Espen Kofstad of Norway had set a new course record with a 62 in the second round.

Nakajima’s problem hole of the week was the eighth, where he was 5-over with three bogeys and a double. Yet the four-shot cushion he began with carried him through to a memorable win.

Matteo Manassero continued his resurgence with a Top-5 finish with a final round of 73, as he tied for fifth with the French duo Romain Langasque (74), Jeong weon Ko (73), and Malaysian Gavin Green (74), with a triple bogey on the 6th, while attempting to better his best HIO finish of T-2 in 2017, finally ended fifth.

Jeff Winther of Denmark, one of the handful of players to shoot in 60s, carded 68 and finished sole ninth at 11-under, while last year’s runner-up Yannik Paul (71) rounded off the Top-10.

STAT PACK: KEITA NAKAJIMA

  • Nakajima clinched his first DP World Tour win on his 11th appearance
  • He is the fourth player from Japan to win the Hero Indian Open, joining Hidezumi Shirakata (1996), Junichi Takahashi (1983) and Kenji Hosoishi (1967 and ’68)
  • This is his first 54-hole lead on the DP World Tour
  • This is his Rookie season on the DP World Tour. He earned his card for the 2024 Race to Dubai after finishing at the top of the Money List on the Japan Golf Tour Organisation last year.
  • He is a four-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, with three victories in 2023 and one as an amateur in 2021
  • Spent a record 87 weeks at the top of the World Amateur Golf Rankings, surpassing Jon Rahm’s previous record of 60 weeks, before turning professional in 2022
  • His four-stroke lead after 54 holes is the joint-largest this season, matching Thorbjørn Olesen at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship
  • His highest finish this season was fourth at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship
  • He is likely to move as high as 12th from 90th spot on the Race to Dubai Rankings on 657.40 points
  • He could move as high as first from 28th place on the Asian Swing Rankings on 525.80 points
  • He could move to a new career high of 80th on the Official World Golf Rankings, from 111th. His previous highest ranking was 88th (Jan 2024)
  • This is the second win by a player from Japan on the 2024 Race to Dubai, adding to Rikuya Hoshino’s victory at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in February
  • This is the first season in DP World Tour history with multiple victories by Japanese players
  • This is the seventh win by a player from Japan on the DP World Tour

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