New Delhi, Oct 24 (PTI) Defending champion Shiv Kapur will spearhead a strong Indian challenge at the USD 400,000 Panasonic Open India as the home golfers look to continue their domination at the 8th edition of the prestigious tournament starting here on Thursday.

The highly-rated event held at the Delhi Golf Club since its inception has been won by six Indians in last seven editions. So the Indians, 69 in the 126-man field, will fancy their chances once again.

No player has won the Panasonic Open India more than once since it was first held in 2011 and Kapur will hope to change that statistic when he leads an elite Indian field which includes three other past champions — Digvijay Singh (2012), Chiragh Kumar (2015) and Mukesh Kumar (2016).

“It was one of the best moments of my career,” says Kapur, who keeps replaying in his mind the images of him holding the Trophy at his home club and his then two-month old daughter sitting on it.

“This is where I have played most of my golf. Winning here was a dream come true and winning a second time and becoming the first player to become a repeat winner in Panasonic Open India would indeed be an icing on the cake.” Kapur also won the Panasonic Swing last year which is an aggregate points race that spans five events in Thailand, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Japan.

Among others, Viraj Madappa, who became the youngest Indian winner on the Asian Tour following his breakthrough in August, will also eye a good outing.

“I am playing well and have had some good results. Also, I have been coming to DGC since my amateur days and I love this club,” said Madappa, who won the Take Solutions Masters in his rookie year.

Ajeetesh Sandhu, who came in joint runner-up last year, will also look to go one rung better in his chase for a second Asian Tour win at the popular event, which marks the Tour’s third stop in India this season.

“I finished tied for second last year so obviously a lot of good memories out here. It’s a tough test every time you come back here so you got to stand up for it and looking forward to this week,” Sandhu said.

“I have played a few events in Japan and in Europe this season. It’s a great learning experience for me. I’m looking to end the season on a high coming back to play on the Asian Tour these two months.

“The key to play well here is always to hit it good off the tee. If you can do that, you get the opportunities to go for the pins. You need to be very patient as well. It’s always important to stay patient on this course.” Also turning pro this week will be young guns Aadil Bedi, Kshitij Naveed Kaul and Yuvraj Sandhu who had done national duty at some of the top amateur events around the world.

The field will also feature India’s legends like Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa, Mukesh Kumar, Feroz Ali.

Leading the international challenge will be the in-form Thailand’s Tirawat Kaewsiribandit, who has won his last two starts first at the Asian Tour event in Pakistan and then in a domestic event in Thailand.

Tirawat, who turned 29 today, is now looking at a hat-trick of titles to celebrate this golden period.

Apart from Tirawat, there is his compatriot Jazz Janewattananond, 22, a two-times Asian Tour winner, and Siddikur Rahman of Bangladesh, who has finished in the Top-10 at Delhi Golf Club in at least 10 Asian Tour events over the last decade. He also won the Hero Indian Open here in 2013.

In 2016, Jazz was contending for the title after two days before dropping to T-30 as the event was cut short to 54 holes because of inclement weather.

Siddikur, currently 97th on the Money List, is looking for a good result at his favourite venue to break into top-60 by the end of the season to keep his Asian Tour card for 2019.

“This week is important for me. I have been struggling a bit with my back injury. It’s (the injury) been about four to five years now. It comes and goes.”

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.