Singh, Howell headline field at Avantha Masters in India

Jeev Milkha Singh

Avantha Masters

Feb. 17-20

Course: DLF Golf & Country Club (7,156 yards, par 72), New Delhi.

Purse: $2.43 million. Winner's share: $405,400.

Last year: Australia's Andrew Dodt won the inaugural event for his first European Tour title. England's Richard Finch was second, a stroke back.

FIVE TO WATCH

Jeev Milkha Singh: The biggest Indian star in the field, he will attract a lot of support and attention.

David Howell: The Englishman has shown something of a return to the form with a top-5 finish in Qatar. Hopefully that signals the start of better times for a player who is better than his 250th ranking.

Gaganjeet Bhullar: The 22-year-old has won his past three events, including the European Challenge Tour’s Gujarat Kensville Challenge, and many feel he is the man to beat this week.

Oliver Fisher: The Englishman is struggling. He has only made one of five cuts this year. He missed the last two rounds in Dubai and spent the weekend working hard with coach Pete Cowen. It will be interesting to see if the work pays off.

Raphael Jacquelin: Top-20 finish in Dubai should have perhaps been better if not for some poor bogeys. Could very well be in contention for the title.

After four big events on the European Tour’s desert swing, life gets back to a more leisurely pace with the €1.8 million Avantha Masters at the DLF Golf & Country Club in New Delhi, the fourth European Tour event to be held in India.

The desert swing treated fans to a host of big names, with Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Tiger Woods, the world’s top three players, turning up in Dubai. No big stars in India, however, with Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee the only player from the world’s top 100 in the field. Jaidee is currently ranked 68th in the world.

Jaidee, one of Asia’s most consistent performers on the world stage in recent years, went winless in 2010 after two European victories. So the talented Thai golfer is due back in the winner’s circle.

India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar might not be a household name outside his homeland, but the 22-year-old is looking to make a big reputation this week. Bhullar, ranked 169th in the world, has won his past three tournaments, including the Gujarat Kensville Challenge, the first event on this year’s European Challenge Tour, and the first Challenge Tour event to be staged in India.

“I’m having a dream run this year, winning three weeks in a row,” Bhullar said. “I could not have asked for a better start to my season. I’m really feeling positive about my game right now, so let’s see what happens this week.”

Bhullar will vie with compatriot Jeev Milkha Singh for attention this week. Singh is the biggest Indian star in the field. He arrives in his homeland after making three straight cuts in the desert swing. The 40-year-old has not won since the 2008 Austrian Open and would like nothing better than to win on his homeland.

David Howell might just be the best bet to take the title. The Englishman has plumbed the depths of the world ranking in recent years. From a career high of ninth at the peak of his powers, he now languishes in 250th. However, a fifth-place finish in Qatar signalled that a return to form might not be far away. His winless streak is even longer than Singh’s. Howell hasn’t won since the 2006 BMW Championship.

Australia’s Andrew Dodt won last year’s Avantha Masters with a score of 14 under par. He is back to defend his title over the Arnold Palmer-designed par-72, 7,156-yard layout, where water comes into play on quite a few holes, notably the Nos. 1, 2, 9, 11, 16, 17 and 18.

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