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Fit to a tee

India’s Lahiri hopes to regain form at Players Championship, while the Woods—Mickelson battle will be the cynosure of all eyes

Golfer Anirban Lahiri, the only Indian to feature at the prestigious Players Championship, would be hoping to stay inside world’s top-100. Lahiri, ranked exactly no. 100, will be trying to stay inside the world’s top-100 while playing the PGA Tour, courtesy his full playing rights.

Lahiri needs to turn his form around to stay inside top-100 and maybe move into top-50 and play all the Majors as he did in 2015 and 2016. Lahiri has made six cuts in nine starts, but not finished inside top-25 this year.

“All I need is a good round to get my confidence back, especially on the putting green,” said Lahiri, who has not won on any Tour since his last win in February 2015 in the Hero Indian Open.

“I feel a lot of departments are working but my scoring hasn’t been as good as I would like it to be. That’s where I’m going to be focusing on over the next two days here.

“I’m comfortable with some of the shots that you get around here,” added Lahiri, who goes out with another Korean, Ahn Byeong-Hun, and Frenchman Alex Levy.

Only two Asians, KJ Choi, the 2011 winner, and Si Woo Kim, the defending champion, have won the Players Championship. They are both in the field this week and their form suggest they could again make a run for it against a field which is one of the strongest ever in the history of this event.

But the field also has two other Asian players in Lahiri and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who have the ability to pull it off.
While Lahiri would be looking to find his mojo back, Kiradech is close to his career-best ranking of no. 29 achieved last month and has been tied-5th in both the WGC events he has played this year.

He has also had a win on the European Tour this year. In short, he is playing at his best and close to getting into the PGA Tour.
The 28-year-old Kiradech is on the verge of earning Special Temporary Membership with the PGA TOUR and that will allow him unlimited sponsor exemptions for the remainder of the season and if he finishes inside the top-125 of the FedExCup points standing, he will become the first Thai to earn a PGA TOUR card.

“Looking back at the WGCs, I’ve shown I can knock on the door in those big events and at the majors. This week feels like a major event and I’m looking forward to the challenge. If I can keep up my form, I don’t think the trophy is far away from me,” said Kiradech.

“To be here is a great honour, it’s one of the biggest golf tournaments in the world, maybe the fifth major. It’s not easy to get into this field, you’ve got to be top-50 in the world or have full PGA TOUR status. All the top-50 players in the world are here and if I can play my A-game, I’m not far away,” he added.

Woods-Mickelson battle

For the first time in 17 years, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have been paired together in the first two rounds of the Players Championship here.

The two have gotten closer in recent times, courtesy Woods’ duties as a vice-captain at Ryder Cup. They also played a practice round together at the Masters and it was one of the highlights of the week.

The careers of Woods and Mickelson, two of the best players of our generation, have almost overlapped for the last two decades, but they have played together only 35 other times in their PGA Tour careers.

The last time was in 2014. Part of the excitement is that both are playing well and that their 36-hole two-round battle comes at a marquee event like the Players Championship.

“We haven’t been paired together in years, and as I look at the cover of the newspaper and the pairing is on there and the excitement that’s been going on around here, it gets me thinking, why don’t we just bypass all the ancillary stuff of a tournament and just go head to head and just have kind of a high-stake, winner-take-all match,” Mickelson said.

“Fifteen years ago my record against him sucked, and now it’s okay. I’m doing better as time has gone on,” he added.
Asked Woods what he thought about Mickelson’s idea of a high-stakes match, he said: “Not against that. We’ll play for whatever makes him uncomfortable.”

“ It’s going to be fun playing with him again. I enjoy competing with him on the first or second day or if it’s the last day.”